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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 23, 2009

Problems mouting for Real Madrid

Real Madrid face a huge challenge in their bid to win a third successive Primera Division title when they travel to third-placed Sevilla this weekend without a host of senior stars.

Madrid have put together a phenomenal run of success to keep the pressure up on pacesetters Barcelona, but they will have to dig even deeper if they are to pick up their 17th win in 18 league games against coach Juande Ramos` former club.

Already without Wesley Sneijder and probably Gabriel Heinze through injury, Madrid could well have lost arguably their three most influential players in the wake of Tuesday's thrilling 3-2 derby win over Getafe.

Winger Arjen Robben lasted just 18 minutes of the clash before suffering a muscle injury that will sideline him for at least a fortnight, while key defender Pepe is facing a lengthy ban for his violent actions as he was sent off late on.

Suspension may also rob Madrid of top scorer Gonzalo Higuain for the trip to Sevilla, with the Argentinian picking up a booking for diving inside the area.

Madrid coach Juande Ramos - who is facing the club he led to five trophies in two years before moving to England in 2007 - confirmed they would be appealing against that decision though, and it would be a huge boost to have the 18-goal hitman available for what could be a crucial match for both clubs.

In the race for the title Madrid are six points behind Barca, while behind them Sevilla are now only two points ahead of fourth-placed Valencia after losing their last three matches - the latest of which was their 4-0 mauling at the Nou Camp last night.

Fortunately for Sevilla, Valencia must face all-conquering Barca themselves this weekend in a battle that will pit the two leading scorers in La Liga against each other.

Barca's Samuel Eto'o leads the way with 27, but David Villa is now on 25 following his brace in Valencia's 2-1 victory over Real Betis in midweek.

Barca`s triumph over Sevilla kept them on course for an historic trophy treble this season, and coach Pep Guardiola has urged his side not to relax even for a bit.

"We cannot stop now," he said. "If another team beats us then it needs to be because they were better; it cannot be because we didn`t do our jobs.

"Something very exciting is happening here. Now we will have a little break because on Saturday we have another vital game at the Mestalla."

Elsewhere on Saturday, two of La Liga's surprise packages meet at La Rosaleda when Malaga play host to Deportivo La Coruna.

Both clubs won in midweek and are in the thick of the fight for a place in next season's Europa League, and the more optimistic of fans might even be dreaming of a possible Champions League spot.

To achieve that though they must overhaul either Valencia or Sevilla, and hold off the challenges of two teams who were in this year's Champions League - Atletico Madrid and Villarreal.

Atletico will fancy their chances of seeing off relegation-haunted Sporting Gijon on Sunday night while Villarreal, despite all their recent problems with poor form and injuries, are still favourites to defeat lowly Getafe.

At the other end of the table, Copa del Rey finalists Athletic Bilbao can move another step closer to safety when they go to Racing Santander.

The Basque giants, one of only three clubs never to be relegated from the top flight, looked in some trouble after suffering six defeats in seven games but they got back back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over bottom club Numancia on Tuesday.

In this weekend's other games, Numancia travel to Almeria, Recreativo Huelva face Real Mallorca, Osasuna go to Real Valladolid and Espanyol hosts Real Betis.

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