Racing look to brake Real
After two dismal away performances in the last week, Spanish league leaders Real Madrid will be glad to be back in their Santiago Bernabeu stadium to face Racing Santander on Saturday.
The Spanish giants have a 100 per cent record at home this season, in both La Liga and the Champions League, however their visitors can also boast of the best defensive record in the Spanish first division.
Racing goalkeeper Tono Rodriguez has conceded only nine goals this season, and been beaten just twice in their last eight games.
"When you walk out onto the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu it can be intimidating, but once the whistle goes you realise it's only 11 men against 11," said Tono on Thursday.
However, the 11 men that Real will field are collectively the most lethal strike force in the Spanish first division with 30 goals to their name this season.
Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and club captain Raul Gonzalez have six goals apiece and Robinho is not far behind, the Brazilian having found the net five times.
"Yes, Real are probably the best team in the world... but we are not going there with a defeatist attitude," added the Racing goalkeeper.
Real will be without their suspended midfield playmaker Jose Maria Gutierrez, who has made many of his teammates' goals this season but who was sent off in the 1-1 draw at Murcia last Saturday.
The reigning Spanish champions have 29 points from 13 games and a one-point advantage over second-placed Villarreal while Real's eternal rivals Barcelona are one point and one place further back.
Villarreal will be looking to continue keeping the pressure on Real, and could take over at the top if they slip up with three points at struggling Valladolid, who have only won once at home this season.
"We are all disappointed that we squandered the chance to go top last weekend when we were held to a draw by Almeria. We are determined not to make the same mistake at Valladolid," said Villarreal's Joan Capdevila on Wednesday.
"Not having UEFA Cup commitments this week means that we can relax and focus fully on Sunday's game," added the Spanish international defender.
By contrast, Barcelona had a taxing 2-2 draw against Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday and the fixture pile up is starting to take its toll on the Catalan club.
Thierry Henry and Sylvinho are definitely out of action for the local derby at Espanyol on Saturday, with a back strain and left knee injury respectively.
There are also question marks over the fitness of defenders Oleguer Presas and Lilian Thuram as well as their Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen.
However, the biggest worry for Frank Rijkaard is the plummeting form of one-time superstar and two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho.
Against Lyon, Rijkaard decided to leave the Brazilian among the substitutes for the first time in nearly three years and he could be relegated to the bench again on Saturday.
Another factor which could also count against Ronaldinho starting for Barca is the possible return of their prolific Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o.
Eto'o has been out of action since early September with a thigh injury but he has almost fully recovered and may be in the squad to face Espanyol.
"If I play this week, then great, but if I have to wait a week, it's not important. I'm ready, I've been working hard to get back," said Eto'o earlier this week.
Espanyol have been one of the revelations of the season and currently lie fourth, just two points behind their neighbour.
"At the start of the season we were just thinking about avoiding relegation but now we've set our sights a lot higher," said Espanyol coach Ernesto Valverde, who used to play for Barcelona.