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By ESPN Staff

La Liga: Pepe keenly awaiting Bernabeu return

Real Madrid defender Pepe is champing at the bit to play his first game at the Bernabeu since December.

The 27-year-old missed much of last season with cruciate ligament damage and, although he recovered to feature for Portugal at the World Cup, has since suffered a calf injury.

He appears to have fully recovered, though, and could play in Madrid's second Primera Division match of the season against Osasuna on Saturday.

"I feel fine and anxious to step onto the pitch and help the team,'' Pepe, whose side drew their opening fixture against Real Mallorca in his absence, said. "I can't wait to play at the Bernabeu again. It is very important to me.

"We always try to win, but it isn't possible all the time. It is our duty to do a good job and fight to the end to take three points. That's what we'll do.''

Pepe expects a tough challenge on Saturday, especially from Osasuna strikers Walter Pandiani and Carlos Aranda.

"They are strong strikers,'' he said. "They like to fight hard. Osasuna have a good squad and a strong coach. They've been doing a good job. We have to try to control the pace to our games from the start.''

City rivals Atletico Madrid opened up with a 4-0 win over Sporting Gijon to top the table after a single match, and they travel to Athletic Bilbao. Defender Alvaro Dominguez admits he has enjoyed sitting at the top of the pile over the international break.

"We've had this weekend off to enjoy the lead,'' he said. "It is always nice to be top but we know that we've had just a week of competition and it's too soon to boast.''

Also on Saturday, Barcelona host Hercules who, as one of the newly promoted sides, are one of only two top-flight teams Lionel Messi has not scored against, while Racing Santander go to Valencia.

Sevilla were convincing victors, 4-1 at Levante, on opening weekend and they will look for a second win against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday. Midfielder Didier Zokora is happy with the make-up of the team.

"I prefer 4-3-3 because we have more options,'' he said. "With Renato and (Luca) Cigarini we complement each other very well, because they are more creative and therefore I can do the defensive work. I am very pleased to be able to play next to them as the team is more offensive.''

Elsewhere on Sunday, Sporting host Mallorca, Malaga go to Real Zaragoza, Getafe entertain Levante and Villarreal face Espanyol.

Monday's match sees Almeria take on Real Sociedad.

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