Athletic’s Llorente gets chance to impress Madrid

Fernando Llorente couldn’t ask for a better chance to impress Real Madrid than leading his Athletic Bilbao against the Spanish leader this weekend.

The Spanish press has linked the lanky Spain striker with a move to Madrid throughout the season, and those reports have heated up this past week as Llorente trails only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi with eight goals scored before Saturday’s match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Llorente has also impressed with Spain, scoring seven goals in 13 appearances and being part of the team that won the World Cup in South Africa.

But Athletic president Fernando Garcia Macua isn’t interested in losing his top player.

"I don’t want any extra money. I won’t do anything with 36 million euros ($49 million) in the bank," Garcia Macua said of the 25-year-old’s buy-out price in his contract. "I want to Llorente so we can compete."

Bilbao has only one away win so far, while Madrid has won all five home games this season.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho will keep a close eye on the health of Ronaldo after the Portugal forward was replaced at halftime of Wednesday’s 4-0 humiliation of Spain with an ankle problem.

Mourinho must watch from the stands again as he serves out the last of a two-game ban for insulting a referee.

Madrid supporter Gabriel Ruiz Almansa has offered to let Mourinho have his front-row seat as it is close to the Madrid bench.

"It would be an honor for me and for my wife Ramona," Ruiz Almansa was quoted as saying by AS on Thursday. "It’s the closest seat to the bench. From there you can hear everything."

Mourinho’s attitude has come under criticism from fellow coaches and opposition players during his first season with Madrid, but Ronaldo said that it all comes down to jealousy.

"Everyone’s envious of Mourinho," said Ronaldo, who has scored 11 goals. "He just tries to do his job as best as possible just like the players."

Madrid has won six straight matches to stay undefeated, while second-place Barcelona trails by one point ahead of its trip to 18th-place Almeria.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has a leg injury and forward Pedro Rodriguez is sick but both are still in contention to play. Messi returns after scoring in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Brazil. The Argentina forward has scored 12 goals in his last eight games in all competitions, with 10 in the league.

Meanwhile, Zaragoza coach Javier Aguirre begins his third Spanish league coaching stint at the last-place team in Monday’s night game at Getafe.

The Mexican coach returns to the Spanish league a year after leaving Atletico Madrid, which came after spending four years at Osasuna. He replaced Jose Aurelio Gay on Thursday after the Spanish coach was fired with Zaragoza on seven points from 11 games.

Also, Valencia and Villarreal meet on Saturday in a regional derby. The two clubs are separated by three points, with Villarreal in third place.

"It’s a good opportunity to move up the standings," Villarreal midfielder Ruben "Cani" Gracia said as the team looks to rebound from its first defeat since the opening round. "We can’t allow more points to escape us at El Madrigal stadium."

In Sunday’s 12th round of games, it’s: Osasuna vs. Sporting Gijon; Espanyol vs. Hercules; Levante vs. Racing Santander; Deportivo La Coruna vs. Malaga; Sevilla vs. Mallorca and Real Sociedad vs. Atletico Madrid.