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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 30, 2007

La Liga: Rejuvenated Villarreal ready for Real

MADRID, Aug 30 (Reuters) - After making a winning start to their championship defence against neighbours Atletico, Real Madrid have to derail Villarreal on Sunday if they are to maintain their momentum under new coach Bernd Schuster.

Real produced an encouraging performance in their 2-1 comeback win against Atletico but the match at Villarreal is likely to provide a far tougher examination for Schuster's new-look team.

'There was a special motivation for the team last week. We were playing a local derby in front of our own fans,' Schuster told a news conference on Tuesday.

'We are on the right path, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.'

Defender Gabriel Heinze could make his debut but Dutchman Arjen Robben will have to wait after being put on a special training programme following his move from Chelsea.

Opponents Villarreal brushed aside Valencia 3-0 at the Mestalla last week to extend a winning run that stretches back to mid-April last season to nine matches.

Despite the loss of leading striker Diego Forlan to Atletico and the continued marginalisation of playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who also looks set to move to the Calderon, Villarreal looked sharp and focused as they inflicted a morale-sapping defeat on their regional rivals.

But Argentine defender Fabricio Fuentes said the team would need to find an extra gear if they are to overcome the reigning champions.

'We have to forget all the good results we've had,' the centre-back told reporters this week.

'It's a new game against a new team and even though they are still settling in as a team Real Madrid will be doing all they can to stop our run.'

Despite all the talk of their fearsome attack, Barcelona made a disappointing start to their campaign, stumbling to a 0-0 draw against a 10-man Racing Santander last Sunday.

But the Catalans were firing on all cylinders in Wednesday's 5-0 thrashing of Italian champions Inter Milan in the Gamper Trophy, with Mexican youngster Giovani dos Santos and Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure in stunning form.

If that performance was anything to go by, Barca will give Joaquin Caparros's Athletic Bilbao a torrid time at the Nou Camp on Sunday.

The bad news for Barca is that Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o will be out of action for at least two months after suffering a partial tear of a tendon in his right thigh just two minutes after coming on as a substitute against Inter.

Eto'o's injury should leave the way open for new signing Thierry Henry to start against Athletic.

Sevilla's game at Osasuna has been postponed because of the Andalucians' involvement in the European Super Cup against AC Milan on Friday, a game that will go ahead despite the tragic death of midfielder Antonio Puerta following his collapse in last week's 4-1 win against Getafe.