Madrid seeks to make up ground against Zaragoza

Madrid seeks to make up ground against Zaragoza

Published Dec. 17, 2009 3:38 p.m. ET

Real Madrid will be looking to capitalize on Barcelona's absence from the last weekend of Spanish league action before the winter break when it hosts troubled Zaragoza, and Valencia hopes to return to winning ways at Deportivo La Coruna.

After hard-fought victories over Valencia and Almeria, Zaragoza looks a less-daunting opponent for second-place Madrid as it has the worst defensive record in the league and is rooted in the relegation zone on 12 points.

Marcelino Garcia was fired as coach of Zaragoza after last weekend's 2-1 defeat to Athletic Bilbao and a permanent replacement has not yet been appointed.

A win on Saturday would lift Madrid to within two points of leader Barcelona, which is in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. Barcelona is on 39 points, having played a game more than Madrid.

"We might cause an upset because people expect us to be intimidated and scared," Zaragoza's caretaker coach Jose Gay said. "I think we've got nothing to lose and we have to be bold."

Madrid will be without some key players, with the defense a particular concern. Pepe has undergone surgery on a serious knee injury which will keep him sidelined for up to six months, while Raul Albiol is also doubtful after pulling out of Thursday's training session with an arm injury.

Playmaker Kaka is still recovering from a groin injury and midfielder Xabi Alonso is suspended.

Madrid has plenty of cover in midfield but a replacement for Pepe is problematic for coach Manuel Pellegrini. The club is considering signing a defender in the winter transfer window.

Fourth-place Valencia, whose 3-2 loss to Madrid ended its nine-match unbeaten run, needs to beat La Coruna on Sunday to ensure it remains in the Champions League spots. Valencia and third-place Sevilla have looked like the only sides capable of threatening the dominance of Barcelona and Madrid this season.

Defender Jeremy Mathieu and midfielders David Silva and Vicente Rodriguez are all doubts for Valencia due to injury. Unai Emery's squad will be further stretched following the midweek Europa League game against Genoa.

"They're all internationals and they are playing well," La Coruna coach Miguel Angel Lotina said of Valencia. "They're doing what was expected, trying to make things difficult for Real Madrid and Barcelona."

Elsewhere, Sevilla is without its injured midfielder Adriano Correia when it hosts eighth-place Getafe on Saturday. Despite the Andalusians' fine first half of the season, striker Frederic Kanoute is playing down the team's ability to challenge for the title.

"We are one step below (Madrid and Barcelona) but we are trying with our resources to compete with them," Kanoute said. "If at the end of the season a couple of players come in who improve us, then they'll be welcome."

In Saturday's other game, it's Athletic Bilbao vs. Osasuna. On Sunday, it's: Valladolid vs. Sporting Gijon; Villarreal vs. Racing Santander; Espanyol vs. Almeria; Malaga vs. Mallorca and Tenerife vs. Atletico Madrid.