Raul set for Real return

BY foxsports • January 28, 2010

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain absent, Raul Gonzalez looks set to return to a starring role when Real Madrid aims to secure its first victory at Deportivo La Coruna in nearly two decades on Saturday.

Ronaldo received a two-game suspension for breaking an opponent's nose last weekend, while Higuain remains sidelined for the Spanish league game with an injury.

Raul holds the club records for games played and goals scored, but hasn't started since November's Champions League game against FC Zurich.

But with Karim Benzema the only striker left in the squad after Ruud van Nistelrooy's transfer to Hamburg, the 32-year-old Madrid icon looks set to feature in coach Manuel Pellegrini's starting lineup.

Madrid hasn't won at El Riazor stadium since 1991, and although it appealed Ronaldo's ban in the hopes of having him available for the game, the Spanish football federation upheld the suspension.

"We all think the same - Cristiano never had any intention of trying to hurt his opponent," Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. "That's why the sanction is unfair."

If Madrid has another slip-up, it could allow Barcelona to extend its lead at Sporting Gijon, where it won 6-1 last season.

Barcelona has won its last three games by a combined 12-0 score to finish the first half of the season unbeaten.

Sporting coach Manuel Preciado has at least given Madrid hope with some fighting words, although he believes his opponent hasn't changed much from last season.

"I see the same Messi, the same (Daniel) Alves, the same (midfielders) with their beastly knowledge of football and unmeasurable quality," Preciado said. "We have to go out and enjoy our football but also make our own mark. People have been looking forward to this game for quite awhile and we can't let them down on Saturday."

Alves may not be available after hurting his right leg in training on Thursday, although scans revealed no muscle tear. The Brazil defender will be re-evaluated on Friday.

Midfielders Sergio Busquets and Jeffren Suarez trained normally with the team on Thursday, while midfielder Yaya Toure is likely to be absent after having just returned from the African Cup.

Barcelona leads with 49 points, Madrid has 44, Valencia is third with 39, while Mallorca and Deportivo both have 34 points in fourth.

Sevilla is hoping to boost its Champions League hopes Sunday when it welcomes Valencia to the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

"This Sunday is a key game for us in terms of not losing ground on those above us," Sevilla winger Diego Capel said. "Valencia is third and we know how important it is to win at home."

Sevilla ended a four-game losing streak last weekend and another victory will narrow its deficit to Valencia, which holds a direct qualifying spot into Europe's top-tier competition. Sevilla has 33 points.

Sevilla strikers Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano are available, while Valencia's attack will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 0-0 draw at Tenerife where it brought little flair.

Still, Valencia is it's best-ever away form, having picked up 23 points from 10 games so far.

"It's a dangerous and important game, but it's not a defining one," Valencia forward Juanma Mata said. "The goal is to win and to increase our advantage."

Also Sunday, it's: Tenerife vs. Zaragoza; Xerez vs. Mallorca; Villarreal vs. Osasuna; Valladolid vs. Almeria; Getafe vs. Racing Santander; and Atletico Madrid vs. Malaga.

Espanyol plays Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

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