Yellow Submarine to set sail

Villarreal will be out to prove the fight for La Liga is not just another two-horse race this season when they take on champions Barcelona.

In the last six seasons, Real Madrid and Barca have occupied the top two spots in all but one campaign while last term there was a massive 25-point gap between the two giants and third-placed Valencia.

It is beginning to look like being a similar story this time around as well, with Madrid and Barca occupying first and second place and a gap of eight points having already opened up between the leaders and fourth-placed Espanyol.

However, in-form Villarreal are hanging on to the coat-tails of the big two and they make the trip to the Nou Camp on Saturday in third place and just two points behind Barca following a fine start to the season.

The Yellow Submarine – who are the only team to break the Madrid-Barca duopoly in recent seasons when they finished runners-up in 2008 – lost their opening match to Real Sociedad but have since picked up 23 from a possible 27 points.

Striker Nilmar said: "It’s normal that Barca and Madrid are fighting for the league, but this season there isn’t such a difference to third place, which is us.

"We are going to try to maintain this level to prevent them escaping like last season. Everyone will be watching the game and if we do things well they will appreciate what we can do. For this to happen we must battle for the whole 90 minutes."

Barca defender Maxwell said of Juan Carlos Garrido’s troops: "Villarreal have players who very much in form. They have a very strong attack and play the ball around well. It will be a difficult game, very complicated."

Pacesetters Madrid will be following that match with interest as a draw would give Jose Mourinho’s men the chance to stretch their lead at the summit to three points on Sunday when they go to Sporting Gijon.

Madrid have been in formidable form since Mourinho took charge and they remain unbeaten in 16 games under the Portuguese, winning 12 of those matches.

On Wednesday, Mourinho’s men cruised into the last 16 of the Copa del Rey with a 5-1 win over Real Murcia, avoiding a third successive embarrassing cup exit at the hands of a third-tier side and taking Madrid’s tally to 30 goals in their last nine fixtures.

Playmaker Mesut Ozil, who has quickly endeared himself to the Madrid fans since his summer arrival, has warned rivals there is still more to come from his side as well.

"We have a team that has a lot of potential and I think we are on the right track. We are a young team with a good harmony. We’re on the right track and we will be stronger," the Germany international said.

In this weekend’s other games, Espanyol will look to continue their fine form when they take on a wounded Racing Santander side who were this week knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Segunda Division Cordoba after conceding a 116th-minute penalty.

Stuttering Valencia will hope to get back on track when they host Getafe at the Mestalla. Los Che have dropped to fifth after picking up just one point from their last four games.

New Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini will attempt to lead his side to their first home points of the season after five successive defeats when they welcome Levante to La Rosaleda, while Real Sociedad are at Hercules,and Real Mallorca meet Deportivo La Coruna.

Also, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will be looking to push their European claims when they take on Real Zaragoza, Osasuna and Almeria, respectively.