High-flying Mallorca face Real test
The superb run of form that has lifted humble Real Mallorca to fourth in La Liga faces a stiff test when Gregorio Manzano's side travel to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid on Sunday.
The club's institutional and financial problems suggested they might struggle to stay in the top flight this term but the wily Manzano has coaxed eight home wins in eight matches out of his players to put Mallorca in Champions League contention.
However, the former Atletico Madrid coach, who led the Balearic Islanders to a Copa del Rey triumph in 2003 in a previous stint at the club, has warned his squad against resting on their laurels.
"We have to get down off this magnificent cloud and forget all this praise being flung at us from every side," Manzano said on Mallorca's website.
"With the base of the squad from last season and the new arrivals we have formed a very good group," he added.
"We knew how to isolate ourselves from the institutional difficulties to focus on our work and the truth is that the squad deserves top marks."
Second-placed Real squandered a chance to climb above arch rivals Barcelona into top spot when they were held to a 0-0 draw at mid-table Osasuna last weekend and were clearly missing the creativity of injured playmaker Kaka.
The Brazilian has been sidelined with a nagging groin problem but returned to full training last week and should be available to coach Manuel Pellegrini on Sunday.
Midfielder Lassana Diarra is suspended and Esteban Granero could be handed a rare place in the starting lineup, while Alvaro Arbeloa may switch to right back in the absence of Sergio Ramos, who is also out due to suspension.
"I am working well and if I have the chance and the luck to play I know I'll be prepared," Granero said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Undefeated leaders Barcelona, who were held 1-1 at home by Villarreal last weekend and have a two-point advantage over Real, will be without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they play at promoted Tenerife on Sunday.
Coach Pep Guardiola publicly admonished the Swede after the Villarreal match for failing to control his temper and picking up a yellow card and suspension thanks to a reckless lunge at defender Diego Godin.
Barca suffered a setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Sevilla in their King's Cup last 16, first leg tie on Tuesday and they play the Andalusians again in La Liga the weekend after the Cup return leg at the Sanchez Pizjuan next Wednesday.
Third-placed Valencia, six points behind Real, play at bottom club Xerez on Sunday and Sevilla, in fifth, host Racing Santander on Saturday.
Sevilla this week agreed a deal with Sampdoria to take defender Marius Stankevicius on loan until the end of the season and the 28-year-old Lithuania international could make his debut against Racing.