Real to make use of Barca's abscence

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BARCELONA, December 18 – Real Madrid aim to capitalise on Barcelona's World Club Cup distractions by closing the gap at the top of La Liga on Saturday with victory over relegation-haunted Zaragoza.RAUL_1_A victory for Real would put them two points behind Barcelona, who are in Abu Dhabi for the World Club final against Estudiantes of Argentina, with the same number of games played.

Real have responded well since their defeat in the ‘Clasico’, winning their last three matches and can count on the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, missing from the last game against Valencia through suspension.

The main concern for Real coach Manuel Pellegrini is in defence with Pepe ruled out for six months with a cruciate knee ligament injury while Raul Albiol is also a doubt with a knock.

Marcelo is tipped to move from midfield to defence for the game.

"I want to always play for Real Madrid, be it as a left back, a midfielder or a striker. It will be fine with me to play as a left back against Zaragoza. That’s my true position," he said.

Saturday’s match will be a baptism of fire for Zaragoza caretaker-coach Jose Gay after replacing Marcelino Garcia who was fired after the defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

He will have his work cut out in the Bernabeu Stadium with his side having already leaked 29 goals, the most in the Spanish top flight.

"I hope to transmit to the team the enthusiasm that I had when I arrived," said Gay.

"Of course we can win this match. Obviously it is not going to be easy but if we play well then we can get the three points."

Valencia, 11 points behind Barcelona, face another stern challenge against a rejuvenated Deportivo La Coruna.

The battle at the top of table is fierce and Sevilla took advantage of Valencia’s defeat last week to move into third place.

They take on Getafe but star striker Frederic Kanoute feels that Sevilla, nine points behind Barcelona, are not at the level of the top two sides.

"We are step below Barca and Madrid on the ladder but we will try with what resources we have to compete with them and although it is not easy we are not far behind," said Kanoute.

Mallorca are proving one of the surprise candidates for a place in the Champions League playing solid, rather than flamboyant football.

They are aiming for their second away win of the campaign against relegation-threatened Malaga after recording their first against Osasuna last weekend.

Athletic Bilbao and Sporting Gijon have also made good starts and they face Osasuna and Valladolid respectively looking to finish the year with a win to keep them in touch with the European places.

Villarreal, who continued their upward march in the table with victory over Atletico Madrid, play Racing Santander, while Atletico, who have endured a dismal last few months, travel to Tenerife.

The game between Espanyol and Almeria sees two sides desperate for a positive result.

Espanyol have lost their last five matches and are level on 13 points with Almeria, whose coach Hugo Sanchez is fighting to keep his job.

Saturday

Athletic Bilbao v Osasuna, Sevilla v Getafe, Real Madrid v Zaragoza

Sunday

Valladolid v Sporting Gijon, Villarreal v Racing Santander, Espanyol v Almeria, Malaga v Mallorca, Tenerife v Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna v Valencia

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