MADRID - Brief news from La Liga ahead of
this weekend's matches:
In-form Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is recovering
from a muscle strain but was left out of Jose Mourinho's squad
for Saturday's trip to Athletic Bilbao as a
precaution, the club said on Friday.
Benzema injured himself on duty with France last month and
missed last weekend's 1-0 defeat at Sporting Gijon and Tuesday's
4-0 Champions League victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Germany
midfielder Sami Khedira is suffering from flu and will also miss
the game at the San Mames, Real said on their website.
Second-placed Real are eight points behind champions
Barca, who host bottom club Almeria on Saturday, with
eight games left.
They meet their great rivals in La Liga on April 16, play in
the final of the King's Cup on April 20 and are almost certain
to clash in the Champions League semi-finals after both recorded
comfortable quarter-final first leg wins this week.
The inclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo, who have
just returned from injury, in the squad for the Bilbao game
shows Real have not given up on catching Barca, according to
assistant coach Aitor Karanka.
"The squad proves that our only intention is to win. We are
taking all the players we have available," Karanka, standing in
for Mourinho, said at a news conference.
"I played at this club for five years and if one thing is
certain no player or coach who has passed through has thrown in
the towel while there is still a chance."
Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes said it was positive for
the sport that there would likely be four "clasicos" between
Real and Barca in coming weeks.
"The more Madrid-Barca games the better," the Spain
international, who along with midfielder Sergio Busquets is
suspended for the Almeria game because of accumulation of
bookings, said in a TV interview late on Thursday. "It's more
intense and better for football."
Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros, who played in Real's youth
ranks, is sure they will fight for the title until the end and
does not expect an easy ride for his team on Saturday.
"Madrid will come here to pressure us and will be the unit
they have shown themselves to be up to now: a very good team,
with very direct players, with a lot of shooting ability, very
physical," he said at a news conference on Friday. "We have to
be at the level of the best Athletic."
New Almeria coach Roberto Olabe, appointed last week to
replace the sacked Jose Luis Oltra, said he would not have
signed a contract until the end of the season if he did not
believe the club were capable of avoiding the drop.
"I have found a group of players who are down because they
are the first ones to feel concern about the situation we are
in," Olabe told a news conference on Friday. "We have to change
this dynamic of worrying because it won't get us anywhere."
Valencia host local rivals Villarreal on Sunday in
a clash between third and fourth that could be decisive in their
battle for the automatic berth in next season's Champions
Valencia are three points ahead and victory at the Mestalla
would be a big step towards securing third spot according to
forward Juan Mata. However, the team could still not afford to
relax, he added.
Villarreal are still alive in the Europa League and the
further they get the better for Valencia, he said. "If they win
it will give them a confidence boost but on a physical level it
won't be the same."
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