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By ESPN Staff

Real hoping to test Barca's mental strength

Leaders Barcelona and chasing Real Madrid have spent the week playing mind games with each other after the champions closed the gap on Pep Guardiola's team to 10 points last Sunday.

Barcelona's 2-2 draw at Real Betis, their first slip up after 10 consecutive league victories, has added extra spice to Saturday's city derby at the Nou Camp against basement side Espanyol (1900 GMT).

Real are on an eight-match winning streak and host an improving Betis at the Bernabeu at the same time.

The Madrid-based media have been quick to build up their team's chances of pulling off a comeback similar to the one Fabio Capello's side achieved to overhaul Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona for the title in 2007.

Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas admitted Barca were playing well, but opted for a different analogy.

"A while ago Rafael Nadal was behind Roger Federer, who was considered the best. Now it is Nadal," he said.

Barca's Mexican defender Rafael Marquez responded: "Real are the ones under pressure because they cannot afford any slips ups in the league. We have a 10-point advantage and are showing no signs of weakness."

The return to Champions League action next week is an added complication for both sides and will influence whether key players such as Real's Arjen Robben and Barca's Carles Puyol are brought back from injury.

While the top two scrap it out against teams in the bottom half of the table, third-placed Sevilla are at home to sixth-placed Atletico Madrid on Saturday (2100).

Both clubs have been dogged by inconsistency this season. Sevilla ended a run of three league defeats with a win away to Espanyol last weekend.

"Although we are where we hoped to be at this point of the season, there is a continuous state of anxiety around the club and this isn't good," sports director Ramon 'Monchi' Rodriguez said.

Atletico are adapting to a new coach Abel Resino who has managed a win and a draw since replacing Javier Aguirre two weeks ago. But the side still has only one win from their last nine outings in all competitions.

"Resino is a motivator and a winner and I am sure he can transmit this to the team," Atletico's Argentine captain Maxi Rodriguez said.

Valencia are hanging on to fourth place despite some unconvincing recent form and serious financial problems off the pitch. They visit Deportivo Coruna on Sunday (2000) seeking their first away win in the league since early November.

Villarreal are fifth on goal difference from Valencia, and host Sporting Gijon on Saturday (1900).

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