Real on a roll

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MADRID, February 5 – After ending their 19-year jinx at the Riazor Stadium with last weekend's 3-1 win over Deportivo La Coruna, Real look to keep their perfect home record intact with victory over Espanyol on Saturday and try to make inroads into Barcelona's five-point lead at the summit.
Real veteran Guti, 33, has been the talk of the Madrid media after his audacious back heel – which has been replayed constantly on Spanish television this week – set up Real’s standout goal against Depor and the club hope he can produce more moments of magic as they attempt to overtake Barca.

Barcelona have notched up four consecutive wins without conceding a goal and entertain Getafe at Camp Nou on Saturday before Real take to the field against Espanyol.

"It was important for us to lift the Depor curse and the league is far from over," said Guti. "Barcelona don’t seem to drop any points so we can’t afford to make any mistakes."

Guti looked to be on his way out of the club following a rift with coach Manuel Pellegrini earlier in the season but that now seems to be water under the bridge and the playmaker is even dreaming of making Spain’s World Cup despite winning the last of his 15 caps back in 2005.

Real will again be without Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portuguese striker completes his two-match suspension but a perfect 30 points from ten league games at home make Madrid strong favourites for the win despite his absence.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world but we are a team and can’t rely on one player," said defender Raul Albiol.

Espanyol, down in 14th, have won just once away from home largely due to their woeful three goals on the road but have a habit of turning it on against the big sides.

Barcelona will be cheering on their city rivals while Real hope their neighbours Getafe can at least take a point at unbeaten Barcelona.

Getafe could be heavy-legged after playing the first leg of their Kings Cup semi-final on Wednesday – losing 2-0 at Sevilla – while Barcelona are rested after no midweek commitment.

The Madrid media insinuated that leaders Barcelona were the beneficiaries of kind refereeing decisions but Mali international Seydou Keita said such suggestions were wide of the mark.

"Barcelona are ahead of Real Madrid because we are better and not because of the referees," emphasised Keita. "I don’t know if someone’s trying to unsettle the referees with these comments."

In other matches, Villarreal stand-in coach Juan Carlos Garrido takes charge of the team for the first time in Sunday’s match at Real Mallorca following the dismissal of coach Ernesto Valverde.

"After 11 years here (as reserve team coach) I know the club well and the players," said Garrido. "I think Villarreal have some of the best players in the world and you just have to look at the national teams for evidence of that."

A trip to Mallorca is not the easiest start considering the islanders have won all nine games at their fortress Ono stadium and lie fifth.

Struggling Valladolid also got rid of their manager with Jose Luis Mendilibar with the club hovering one place above the relegation zone and reserve team coach Onesimo Sanchez has taken over and must fire up the team for a testing trip to Valencia on Saturday.

Valencia are in third, three points above Sevilla who beat them 2-1 last time out.

That win helped Sevilla move back into the top four and they aim to close in further on Valencia with victory against lowly Real Zaragoza on Sunday.

Sevilla put one step in the Kings Cup final with a 2-0 semi-final first leg win over Getafe on Wednesday so confidence is high.

Atletico Madrid gained a huge psychological boost ahead of their Sunday clash with Racing Santander after they thrashed the same opponents 4-0 in Thursday’s King’s Cup semi-final first leg meeting.

Atletico may be going strong in the cup but languish down in 13th in the league a full 13 points off the top four.

Fixtures

Saturday

Valencia v Valladolid (1700 GMT), Barcelona v Getafe (1900 GMT), Real Madrid v Espanyol (2100 GMT)

Sunday – all 1600 GMT unless stated

Malaga v Deportivo La Coruna, Osasuna v Tenerife, Real Mallorca v Villarreal, Almeria v Sporting Gijon, Real Zaragoza v Sevilla (1800 GMT), Racing Santander v Atletico Madrid (2000 GMT)

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