Barca's pursuit of Real under scrutiny in Seville
MADRID, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Barcelona cut Real Madrid's advantage at the top of the Primera Liga to six points last weekend, prompting a surge in belief they can give the leaders a run for their money.
However, to maintain the momentum they face the difficult task of taking all three points from Sevilla in the Sanchez Pizjuan to keep the pressure on Real, who are at home to Valladolid on Sunday.
Although they are not playing well, Barca have won four of their last five league games, conceding just one goal in that time, and knocked holders Sevilla out of the King's Cup last month.
They drew 1-1 away in the first leg, thanks to a Thierry Henry strike, and held on for a scoreless draw in the return to go through on the away goals rule.
Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez is expecting a different approach from the Catalans on Saturday.
'I think they were very intelligent in the Cup second leg. They defended very well,' he said.
'On this occasion, I don't think they will come out to defend but they may be forced to by us as happened in the first leg,' he said.
Barca's new-found defensive resilience will be put to the test by the Primera Liga's top scorer Luis Fabiano, who has taken his tally to 16 with four goals from his last three matches.
Sevilla, who beat Real 2-0 at home in November, have climbed to seventh in the table with back-to-back wins and are now just two points below the UEFA Cup qualification places.
Real will be seeking to reassert their dominance in the league after slipping to a surprise 2-0 defeat away to promoted Almeria last weekend.
They receive another promoted side Valladolid at the Bernabeu where they have won every game this season. They have not lost there in the league since going down 1-0 to Levante almost exactly a year ago.
The main threat to Iker Casillas's net will come from in-form Valladolid striker Joseba Llorente who has notched 12 goals in the campaign.
Real have problems in defence with Pepe, Christoph Metzelder and Gabriel Heinze injured, and have a doubt over leading scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Third-placed Espanyol host a Recreativo Huelva side hoping for a reaction under new coach Manolo Zambrano. Victor Munoz was sacked on Monday after their seventh game without a win saw them slip to 19th in the 20-team standings.