Barcelona take on Madrid in standout clash

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> FC Barcelona and Real Madrid hope to restore their wounded pride on Saturday in the standout fixture of the Spanish league season.

Updated: March 22, 2007 06:37 IST
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FC Barcelona and Real Madrid hope to restore their wounded pride on Saturday in the standout fixture of the Spanish league season. Each powerhouse would welcome a victory over its biggest rival to soothe disappointment at being eliminated this week in the Champions League's second round. Barcelona, a point behind Sevilla in second place, has made positive noises since losing the chance to retain the European title on Tuesday with an away-goals defeat by Liverpool. "Fortunately, Real Madrid is now coming," Barcelona sports director Aitor "Txiki" Begiristain said. "It's important to beat Real Madrid, because it's a title rival and because we want to bring some cheer to our supporters." Fourth-place Madrid, which also went out on away goals at Bayern Munich on Wednesday, has taken its elimination harder, with sports director Predrag Mijatovic hinting that coach Fabio Capello might not even be in charge for the big match. "It's obvious that coaches depend on results," Mijatovic was quoted as saying by sports daily As on Thursday. If Capello is still in his job on Saturday, a further defeat at Camp Nou will probably spell the end of his eight-month tenure. The Italian's hopes of survival are boosted by Madrid's form on the road this season. With eight wins from its 13 matches, it is the league's best. However, with 10 wins and two draws from its 12 games this season, defending champion Barcelona boasts the league's top home record. Barcelona start favourites Madrid captain Raul Gonzalez says home advantage makes Barcelona the favorite. History supports the forward's belief, with the Catalan team having won 43 of its 75 home games against Madrid. "The crowd helps a lot," Raul told Madrid's Web site. "But we are capable of getting three points. A win is vital for us to get back into the title race." Madrid will be without David Beckham, who strained knee ligaments in last weekend's draw with Getafe and misses the chance to face Barcelona for the final time before he leaves for the Los Angeles Galaxy in August. Forward Jose Antonio Reyes, and defenders Fabio Cannavaro and Roberto Carlos, are also sidelined, while Sergio Ramos, Miguel Torres and Mahamadou Diarra are all doubtful. Barcelona could be without its top scorer this season, Ronaldinho, who hasn't trained since picking up a right thigh strain against Liverpool. The hosts will lack suspended Barcelona forward Ludovic Giuly and defender Gianluca Zambrotta. Sevilla leads the league with 50 points, Barcelona has 49, and Valencia 46. Madrid is next with 44, two more than Zaragoza. Sevilla leads Sevilla continues its bid for its first league title since 1946 when it visits 19th-place Gimnastic Tarragona on Sunday. Coach Juande Ramos' team rose to the top by beating Barcelona last weekend, leading Sevilla's sports director Monchi Rodriguez to say winning the league was now "more feasible." "It's clear that it's complicated and difficult but we're nearer than we were at the start of the season," Rodriguez told Sevilla's Web site. "Winning would be a surprise because anything other than Barcelona or Madrid is always a surprise." Valencia visits No 13 Osasuna on Sunday, five days after reaching the Champions League quarterfinals by eliminating Inter Milan on away goals. Valencia still bears the scars of the pitched battle between the players at the end of the match which led both clubs and five of their players to be charged by UEFA. David Navarro, whose punch broke the nose of Inter midfielder Nicolas Burdisso, sustained bruising to his left leg as a result of kicks he received, while right winger Joaquin Sanchez's right thigh was hurt by Burdisso's boot. During the game, midfielder Ruben Baraja and left winger Vicente Rodriguez suffered muscular injuries which will sideline them on Sunday. Zaragoza is due to visit No 14 Real Betis on Sunday although there are doubts over where the game will be held. Betis' stadium has been ordered shut for three games after Sevilla coach Ramos was knocked out by a bottle thrown from the crowd during last week's Copa del Rey quarterfinal second leg. However, Betis says no alternative venue is suitable and has taken its case to Spain's senior sporting body in a bid to get the punishment overturned.

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