Madrid, Barca face away tests of La Liga title credentials

AFP, Sunday 26 Feb 2012

Barcelona captain Xavi Hernandez claims 10-point gap between his side and Mourinho's Real is unfair reflection of league ahead of clash with Atletico Madrid

Real Madrid V Barcelona
Barcelona and Real Madrid players reacting during their La Liga game

Defending champions Barcelona attempt to hang onto the coattails of runaway leaders Real Madrid on Sunday with Pep Guardiola's team insisting they do not deserve to be 10 points behind their bitter rivals

All eyes will be on the Spanish capital when the race for the title continues with Real making the short journey to neighbours Rayo Vallecano while Barcelona visit Atletico.

Barcelona captain Xavi Hernandez believes the gap is not a fair reflection of the league so far.

"If we compare the play of Madrid and ours the gap is too big, but we have not had the best of luck. Football is like that, sometimes it's the smallest details that matter and we have not been able to control those as much this season," he said.

"We won the World Club Championship and without realising it probably lost a bit of rhythm due to that, but we are keen to win back those 10 points.

"I watch most Madrid matches but I don't follow what (Jose) Mourinho says. I'm more interested in the football," he continued, perhaps in a bid to increase the tension between the two rival clubs.

Madrid have been criticised in the last week for their decision to not offer their Santiago Bernabeu stadium as a stage for the Spanish Cup final that Barcelona will contest with Athletic Bilbao in May.

Although work on the stadium is the official reason given as to why the game cannot be played in the Bernabeu, it is thought that Madrid's management do not want to run the risk of Barcelona lifting a trophy on their home ground.

Two key players for Madrid this season, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema, are unavailable for the game at Rayo Vallecano.

The absence of Benzema gives Gonzalo Higuain, recently linked with a summer move to Manchester City, the chance to establish a place in Mourinho's starting eleven.

The Argentine international enjoyed Mourinho's faith at the beginning of the season but has since had to battle with Benzema for the chance to lead the forward line.

Rayo have won their last three games and sit in eighth position, only two points behind a potential Champions League place next season.

Their compact stadium, located in the south Madrid area of Vallecas, will be full for the visit of their illustrious neighbours who have not been to the venue since Rayo's last appearence in the top division in the 2002/03 season.

Equally difficult is the task facing Barcelona.

Atletico Madrid are still unbeaten in the league since the arrival of new manager Diego Simeone at the turn of the year, and a full house of 54,000 is expected to attend a duel that always promises goals and spectacular football.

Third-placed Valencia host Sevilla in the pick of the other games.

On Saturday, Levante earned a 2-1 win at Espanyol to boost their hopes of a place in the Champions League.

Malaga came from behind to beat bottom club Real Zaragoza 5-1. The defeat leaves Zaragoza stranded at the bottom, 11 points from safety.

Also on Saturday the points were shared in 1-1 draws between Racing Santander and Sporting Gijon and Real Betis and Getafe.


Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao (1100 GMT), Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid (1500 GMT), Valencia v Sevilla (1700 GMT), Osasuna v Granada (1700 GMT), Real Sociedad v Mallorca (1700 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (2030 GMT)

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