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Zenit sign Bart Simpson

The Toe Poke 13 hours ago
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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 22, 2007

La Liga: Madrid derby in the spotlight

MADRID, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Real Madrid travel across the capital to city rivals Atletico Madrid in the Primera Liga on Saturday for a derby match that could have far-reaching consequences for both sides.

Atletico, who have not beaten their neighbours at home since a 3-1 win in the 1998-99 season, are fifth in the table and desperate for a place in European competition next year.

Having lost to Sevilla and Valencia in recent weeks, who along with Real and Barcelona make up the top four in Spain, Atletico have another chance to make the step up by overhauling Fabio Capello's side.

They have 39 points, three behind fourth-placed Real, and a victory would give them the head-to-head advantage having drawn 1-1 in the Bernabeu in October.

Infuriatingly inconsistent, if Atletico lose it could be the blow to morale that sees them slip off the pace to finish in mid-table obscurity as happened last season.

'I don't know why we haven't responded well in these games (against direct rivals). Perhaps we have lacked a little confidence. A win would maybe give us that confidence boost we need,' said Atletico's Argentine striker Sergio Aguero.

The local media always build up the game as a huge test for Real but the sad fact is that for the last four seasons it has been a cakewalk for the visitors.

Four straight wins with 12 scored and one conceded from the penalty spot, are facts that speak for themselves in the Calderon.

Real enter the game in a delicate state. Capello's future on the bench remains a hot topic and a setback against their city rivals could force the exit of the under-fire Italian.

On a positive note, a bittersweet 3-2 home win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday was a boost for their under-performing forwards, and the side set out for the Calderon with the league's best away record.

Midfielder David Beckham is suspended while Mahamadou Diarra and Roberto Carlos are injury doubts.

Leaders Barcelona, on 46 points, host lowly Athletic Bilbao on Sunday in need of a lift after losing 2-1 to visitors Liverpool in the Champions League. Second-placed Sevilla, who are level on points with Barca, visit Getafe.

Barca fans will be hoping to get a glimpse of Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o who has ruled himself out of the club's last two matches to work on his knee.

Four points back are third-placed Valencia, who beat the leaders 2-1 last weekend. They travel to take on the league's bottom club Gimnastic also on Sunday.