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Last Chance for Real Madrid in Race for Primera Liga Title
    2008-12-20 00:26:22     Xinhua
Real Madrid kicks off match day 16 in the Primera Liga on Saturday, knowing it is their last chance to stay in the race for the title.

Last Saturday's defeat to Barcelona in the Camp Nou stadium left Juande Ramos' team sixth in the table, 12 points behind the league leader and knowing that no team has ever closed such a big gap in Spain.

The visit of Valencia gives Real Madrid the chance to recover some much needed morale and to pressure another rival for the title.

Valencia travels to the Santiago Bernabeu third in the Primera Liga, but its players may suffer tired legs following Wednesday's UEFA Cup game away to French side St Etienne.

Real Madrid is without long-term absentees Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mahamadou Diarra and Ruben de la Red, while Pepe is also sidelined and Sergio Ramos suspended. However, Marcelo and Arjen Robben return after missing last week's defeat.

Saturday's second game sees Atletico Madrid travel to Barcelona to face struggling Espanyol. Atletico has hit its best form in recent weeks and coach Javier Aguirre will be looking for strikers Kun Aguero and Diego Forlan to be on target against the side fourth from bottom in the Primera Liga.

Espanyol is without injured captain Raul Tamudo.

Barcelona is in Villarreal for Sunday's big match. Villarreal is currently fourth in the league and should Barca win, it would mean they had defeated their four main title rivals in the space of a month.

Defeat for the Catalans in a ground where they lost 3-1 last season, would give sides such as Valencia, Villarreal and Sevilla hopes of closing the gap at the top of the table.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has slight doubts over the fitness of Toure Yaya and Carles Puyol, while Villarreal is without suspended striker Joseba Llorente.

Sevilla aims to stay in the title race at the expense of struggling Mallorca. Sevilla is third in the league after beating Villarreal last week, while Mallorca slipped into the relegation zone after a 4-1 thrashing in Getafe.

The visitors have Freddy Kanoute out with a groin strain, while Gregorio Manzano knows anything other than a win will probably cost him his job as Mallorca coach.

Deportivo la Coruna aims to bounce back from their defeat to Valladolid last week by ending Recreativo Huelva's two game winning run, while high-flying Valladolid has a Castilian derby away to Numancia in Soria.

Athletic Club Bilbao will not be looking forward to their visit to play Betis. The same fixture had to be abandoned last season after Athletic's keeper Armando was hit in the eye by a bottle hurled from the crowd and the visitors will no doubt get a hostile reception.

The good news for Athletic, however, is that Betis' central midfield pairing of Mehmet Aurelio and Emana are both suspended.

Sergio Sanchez returns in goal for Sporting Gijon for the visit of Almeria. Defeat for either side will see them drawn into the battle to avoid relegation.

Finally Osasuna's players know they have to turn chances into goals as they take on Getafe. Getafe beat Mallorca 4-1 last weekend while Osasuna slipped back into last place following a 1-0 defeat in Huelva in a match where they created but missed enough chances to have won easily.


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