Following their demoralising UEFA Champions League exit to Liverpool on Tuesday, all that is left for Spanish champions Real Madrid this season is trying to retain the league title, where they trail Barcelona by six points.
Real's first visit to Anfield was memorable for all the wrong reasons as Liverpool thrashed them 4-0, with the tie won 5-0 on aggregate, and the nine-time European champions have now failed to get past the last 16 of the competition since 2004. Manager Juande Ramos must pick his side up for Saturday's trip to Copa del Rey finalists Athletic Bilbao and Real cannot afford a European hangover as they pursue Barca in the title race.
"At Real Madrid when things are going great we are among the greatest teams in the world, however, when they are going badly we are the worst club in the world," explained Argentine Gabriel Heinze. "The Liverpool game was a real setback and I understand the disappointment of the fans because I am sad too. The only solution is to win on Saturday."
The Liverpool humiliation is the first time Ramos has come under real pressure at Real and the former Tottenham coach will know that managers don't last long at the Santiago Bernabeu. To make matters worse for Real fans, Barcelona cruised into the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 5-2 victory over Lyon to maintain their treble push.
Pep Guardiola's team are at Almeria on Sunday without any major injury concerns apart from the absence of their versatile captain Carles Puyol. "We have a few tough months ahead of us but we will go far with this spirit (against Lyon)," said Guardiola. "We have to recover mentally and physically for Almeria and get the win."
Barcelona have a six-point cushion over Real and will be desperate to maintain that lead as they still have to play Real at the Bernabeu. The alluring fixture this weekend is a Champions League duel between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday. The two teams had contrasting fortunes in the knockout stage with Villarreal getting past Panathinaikos while Atletico were eliminated by FC Porto. In the league Villarreal occupy fourth, five points ahead of Atletico who will view this as a must-win game.
Atletico coach Abel Resino surprisingly benched Diego Forlan for the Porto game and strike partner Sergio "Kun" Aguero hinted that he was confused by the tactical switch. "Playing up front and competing against three defenders is impossible," Aguero said. "I don't get involved with team selection as that is for the coach, but as far as I am concerned Diego (Forlan) is a key figure in the team."
The pair are expected to be reunited on Sunday as they bid to reel in a Villarreal side that are starting to motor. Valencia are a point below Atletico after just one win in their last ten outings and need a home win over Recreativo Huelva on Saturday to keep their fading Champions League hopes alive. This season Valencia have struggled against the teams at the bottom - losing to relegation-threatened Osasuna, Real Mallorca and Numancia - so they ought to be wary against Recre.
Coach Unai Emery, in his first season at the Mestalla, got the dreaded vote of confidence from the Valencia board this week reflecting the pressure he is under. Emery started brilliantly with the club top of the table after the first eight games but off-the-field issues, such as unpaid player wages, appear to have dented morale at the cash-troubled club.
Sevilla missed out on the Champions League last season but are on course to qualify in this campaign lying third, a comfortable five points ahead of Villarreal. On Sunday, Sevilla travel to promoted Malaga who are having an incredible season on their return to the top-flight sitting just three points off the top four.