Madrid plays at Santander, Barcelona hosts Bilbao

BY foxsports • April 1, 2010

Before Real Madrid and Barcelona play each other in a match that could decide the title, the Spanish league leaders must face other opposition this weekend.

Both clubs have 74 points, with Madrid leading on goal difference. There are nine games to play, but the big match between the rivals will be next weekend.

Madrid will play at Racing Santander while defending champion Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao, which hasn't beaten the Catalan team in nearly four years.

Madrid has won 11 straight games while Barcelona is coming off a disappointing Champions League draw against Arsenal, which the European champions dominated before the 2-2 result.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said he couldn't remember his team playing a better first half since he took the job.

"The result wasn't anything to worry about," Guardiola said. "We just have to make sure we maintain that tone."

Before Tuesday's return leg at the Camp Nou, Barcelona will warm up with a match against Athletic, a team that has lost to Barcelona 10 straight times. During that run, Barcelona won the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercup.

Athletic trails Barcelona by 29 points, but the all-Basque team is only two points off a Champions League qualifying place.

"We're going to the Camp Nou playing well," said Athletic striker Fernando Llorente, who has 21 goals in all competitions. "We're an uncomfortable rival. We can cause problems if we show no fear."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on an impressive scoring run, getting both goals in London to take his total to five in his last four games. Barcelona will hope Lionel Messi can get on the scoresheet against Athletic after being kept quiet for the third straight game.

Barcelona will be without injured midfielder Andres Iniesta and defender Daniel Alves, whose yellow card last weekend meant a suspension for Saturday's game. That makes the Brazilian available for the "clasico" match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Madrid hasn't lost in 15 games played on its home ground, but Sunday's match at El Sardinero stadium comes first.

Racing has lost five straight against Madrid, which doesn't bode well as the 16th-place team fights to stay in the first division with only six points separating it from the drop.

The match will pit Sergio Canales against Madrid for the first time since the teenage forward signed with the Spanish giant, who he will join at the end of the season.

"We can't commit any type of error," Racing striker Pedro Munitis said. "We have to play very defensively and intensely and not give anything away."

Madrid should welcome France internationals Karim Benzema and Lassana Diarra back from injury, while Kaka's rehabilitation from a groin injury stays geared to returning for the Barcelona game. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos are both suspended.

"We're playing for the league with each game and we all know that," Madrid defender Raul Albiol said.

Sevilla coach Antonio Alvarez will go for his first win again and is bidding to snap an eight-game winless run on Saturday against 18th-place Tenerife. Sevilla is tied on points with Athletic - two points behind Mallorca, which plays at Almeria on Sunday.

Also, it's: Valencia vs. Osasuna; Zaragoza vs. Malaga; Valladolid vs. Villarreal; Sporting Gijon vs. Xerez; Getafe vs. Espanyol; and Atletico Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna.

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