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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 5, 2006

La Liga: Real and Valencia battle for second

MADRID, May 5 (Reuters) - The race for Spain's second automatic Champions League spot looks like going to the wire with Real Madrid and Valencia competing to finish as runners-up to Barcelona.

Frank Rijkaard's side retained their league title on Wednesday and could push their city rivals Espanyol closer to the second division with a derby win in the Nou Camp on Saturday.

But the main interest of the weekend focuses on second place and the relegation scrap with two games left.

Second-placed Real hold a one-point advantage over Valencia after beating Racing Santander 3-2 on Thursday, but have to get through an emotionally-charged game against Villarreal in the Bernabeu on Sunday to stay ahead.

Fans and players will hope to give the retiring Zinedine Zidane a big send off in his last home game in a Real shirt.

Valencia had looked to be on course for second place after five consecutive wins, but the wheels came off their bandwagon when they crashed 2-1 at relegation-threatened Real Mallorca during the week to hand Barca the title.

Coach Quique Sanchez Flores lambasted his side after the defeat, saying: "It was as if we were the side fighting against relegation and they were going for the Champions League."

Valencia, with 68 points, need to pick themselves up at home to an out-of-sorts Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Fourth-placed Osasuna, with 65 points, moved closer to securing their first Champions League place with a 1-0 win away at Atletico on Wednesday, and can keep the pressure on the sides above with a victory away at struggling Racing.

Outside the top four, Celta Vigo, fifth with 60 points, and Sevilla, sixth with 59, are on course to claim the two UEFA Cup spots available in the league.

Celta's 1-0 defeat to Barca during the week dented their hopes of catching Osasuna but they travel to face Real Sociedad on Sunday in the hope of making sure of European football for next season.

UEFA Cup finalists Sevilla have a game in hand on their nearest rivals and play basement side Malaga on Saturday.

At the foot of the table 19th-placed Cadiz, on 33 points, are favourites to join relegated Malaga in the second division next year, but any one of six above them in the table could also go down.

Alaves, who are away to Real Zaragoza, occupy 18th place with 36 points but they are only three points short of Athletic Bilbao in 13th.

Racing, Espanyol, Real Sociedad, Betis who are at home to Mallorca, and Athletic Bilbao who visit Deportivo Coruna will all be nervously awaiting the outcome of each others' matches come Sunday evening.