Brief news from La Liga ahead
of this weekend's matches:
Real Madrid have Angel di Maria back in the squad for
Saturday's trip to Pamplona to play sixth-placed Osasuna,
although the Argentina winger is not yet fit enough to play a
full match, coach Jose Mourinho said on Friday.
"Obviously he can't play 90 minutes but he's in the squad,"
Mourinho told a news conference.
"The question is if he starts and then comes off before the
end or if he stays on the bench and then plays the amount of
time we think appropriate," the Portuguese added.
Di Maria, who has provided 13 assists and scored five goals
in his 15 league appearances this season, was injured at the end
of last year and again just after coming back in mid-February
and has not played since then.
The Osasuna match will be a stern test for Real as the
leaders seek to stretch their advantage over second-placed
Barcelona to nine points, according to full-back Marcelo.
"It is going to be very, very tough because it's a difficult
stadium to visit but we will give everything to get the three
points," the Brazilian said on Real's website.
Barca lost 3-2 at Osasuna in February but have since
trimmed Real's lead to six points from 10 and are chasing an
eighth straight win when they host Europa League
quarter-finalists Athletic Bilbao later on Saturday.
Bilbao have lost three and drawn one of their last four
league matches and have slipped to 11th, putting their bid to
qualify for Europe again next season in peril.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola does not believe the Bilbao
players will be tired after Thursday's 4-2 Europa League win at
Bundesliga side Schalke 04.
"They are used to working at the limit," Guardiola told a
news conference on Friday.
"It's better to have three or four days of rest but teams
that want to be there competing at the end have to play a lot of
matches in quick succession," he added.
The Barca squad stayed on in Italy for an extra day after
Wednesday's frustrating 0-0 Champions League quarter-final
first-leg draw at AC Milan because of Thursday's general strike
in Spain and arrived back in the Catalan capital on Friday.
With nine games left, Real lead on 75 points, Barca have 69
and Valencia and Malaga trail on 47 in third and fourth
David Villa is nearing the end of his recuperation after
breaking his leg at the Club World Cup in December, the Barca
and Spain striker said on Friday.
"I am very positive, going through the final phase now,
thank God, working very hard every day since it happened," he
said at a Spanish football federation (RFEF) event.
"I can see light at the end of the tunnel and I am eager to
start enjoying football again from the inside," he added.
Embattled Valencia coach Unai Emery badly needs a win when
his side host city neighbours Levante on Sunday after two
league defeats in a row loosened the club's grip on third and
they were beaten 2-1 at AZ Alkmaar in Thursday's Europa League
quarter-final first leg.
"Starting on Sunday against Levante we need to feel strong
and positive and turn in a determined performance," Emery, who
has urged the fans to get behind the team, said after the defeat
in the Netherlands.
Ambitious Qatar-owned Malaga have won five and drawn one
of their last six games, snatching a point against Real at the
Bernabeu with a late equaliser, and can go three points clear of
Valencia with a win at home to Real Betis on Saturday.
"We are in a good position and on good form, with a squad
focused on taking control of games and which has shown it can
respond at the right time independently of who is selected,"
coach Manuel Pellegrini told a news conference.
As the race for a lucrative place in Europe hots up,
fifth-placed Levante are three points behind Valencia and Malaga
on 44 and a point ahead of Osasuna.
Espanyol are three further back on 40, with Atletico Madrid,
Sevilla and Getafe level on 39 and Bilbao on 38, a point ahead
of Rayo Vallecano.
Bottom side Real Zaragoza have taken seven points from
their last three matches and continue their bid to avoid the
drop to the second division at fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon
Racing Santander, who host Granada on Saturday, Gijon
and Zaragoza are level on 25 points in the three relegation
places, six behind Granada and Villarreal.
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