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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 17, 2009

Real Madrid aim to trim Barca advantage

Real Madrid will look to close the five-point gap to leaders Barcelona at the top of La Liga when they host Real Zaragoza at Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday night.

Manuel Pellegrini's side have a game in hand on their Catalan rivals, who are competing at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, and will aim to continue their recent run of good form which has seen them lose just one of their last eight league games.

Pellegrini will hope to be able to call on winger Marcelo, who returned to training yesterday having missed out earlier in the week.

Ezequiel Garay is set to start in the heart of defence for Los Blancos following the news that Pepe is likely to be out for around six months after undergoing surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered in last weekend's 3-2 win at Valencia.

The visitors meanwhile will be beginning life without coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, who was sacked following last weekend's 2-1 home defeat to Athletic Bilbao with the club in the relegation zone after picking up three wins from their 14 games to date.

Zaragoza B team coach Jose Aurelio Gay has been placed in charge on a temporary basis while the club seek to appoint a full-time successor to Garcia Toral.

Veteran defender and captain Roberto Ayala has called on his team-mates to put a tumultuous week behind them and focus on trying to upset the odds on Saturday.

He told Marca: "Of course we are sorry about what has happened but what we have to do now is stop this run of defeats and start winning games to get out of this situation."

The Argentinian has also warned his colleagues not to be overawed by the challenge of playing at the Bernabeu.

"If we are already defeated before the game it is almost better not to go," he said. "We will meet a powerful rival, which has very good players, but why can't we play a good game and get a positive result?"

Third-place Sevilla host Getafe at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan as they seek to keep pace with Real and Barcelona at the top of the table.

The home side will hope to have striker Frederic Kanoute, who scored the winner in last weekend's win at Sporting Gijon, fit as he struggles to overcome a virus while Ivica Dragutinovic should also be available.

The visitors may continue with Jordi Codina in goal after the 27-year-old made his debut in the 2-1 win over Tenerife.

Elsewhere, fourth-placed Valencia seek to bounce back from defeat against Real Madrid as they travel to face Deportivo, while lowly Malaga target just their second win of the season when they host Mallorca.

Villarreal, boosted by their first away win of the season at Atletico Madrid, are at home to Racing Santander while Espanyol will look to bounce back from their derby defeat to Barcelona when they face Almeria.

Valladolid host Sporting Gijon, Osasuna travel to Athletic Bilbao and Tenerife meet Atletico Madrid in the weekend's other fixtures.

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