Valencia aim to take advantage of wounded Real
MADRID, March 10 (Reuters) - Valencia will be looking to inflict further injury on a wounded Real Madrid when they host their Primera Liga rivals at the Mestalla on Saturday (kick-off 2100 GMT).
Real waved goodbye to their only realistic hope of a trophy this season when they went out to Arsenal in the Champions League and their only remaining aim is to finish ahead of Valencia to take second place to Barcelona in the title race.
The two teams are neck-and-neck in the standings with 51 points and victory for either side would give them an important edge in the battle to claim the all-important automatic spot in next season's Champions League.
'It is a very important game for us,' Valencia midfielder David Albelda told Marca on Thursday. 'There are three vital points at stake.
'They are in the same position as previous years in that they are not working together as a team, but they still possess the individual talent to win games.'
Following the failure of the Real Madrid old guard to produce the goods against Arsenal, coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro might choose to start ringing the changes against Valencia.
Ronaldo's poor form could prompt him to give Italy striker Antonio Cassano another chance up front, while Brazilian forwards Julio Baptista and Robinho should return to the fray after being left out of the starting line-up against Arsenal.
Left back Roberto Carlos is suspended after picking up a booking in last week's 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid.
Valencia missed their chance to stay clear of Real when they drew 0-0 with basement side Malaga last week but they are unbeaten in 15 matches and have had all week to prepare for the clash.
Leading striker David Villa, who scored when Valencia beat Real 2-1 at the Bernabeu earlier in the season, will be looking to add to his tally of 15 goals after going three games without finding the net.
Champions Barcelona, who are 10 points clear at the top, face a tricky trip to fourth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
The Catalans are in euphoric mood after knocking Chelsea out of the Champions League on Tuesday, but the team from Navarra have only lost twice at home this season and are hopeful of causing an upset.
'We are always motivated when we play the big teams, but with it being the leaders we will be giving it 300 percent,' midfielder Ludovic Delporte said earlier this week. 'We will be out to beat them.'
Barca will be without dynamic Argentine forward Lionel Messi, who faces at least a month on the sidelines after tearing a thigh muscle against Chelsea, while Frank Rijkaard is likely to rotate his squad after their exertions against the Londoners.
With Osasuna facing the leaders, fifth-placed Celta will be hoping to take advantage when they play Espanyol.
The Galicians, who returned to the top flight after a season in the second division, beat Osasuna 2-0 last weekend and have lost just one of their last five games.