Ronaldo, Kaka absent for Valencia test
© AFP

Real must do without €164 million worth of talent for Saturday's crucial title duel at Valencia as they bid to slice Barcelona's five-point lead at the top.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the most expensive player in history at €94 million, misses out through suspension following his red card for violent conduct against Almeria last weekend while Brazilian Kaka, a €70 million signing from AC Milan, is also absent with a sports hernia injury.

"Cristiano is a key player for us and creates a lot of danger," said Xabi Alonso. "However, we intend to be the same without Cristiano. We have to try and be the same team irrespective of who is playing." Real will certainly miss Ronaldo's goals - he has scored 12 goals in 11 games in all competitions - so Madrid will have to look to their other key performers at the Mestalla Stadium.

Real are three points ahead of third-placed Valencia who have lost just once in the league and are unbeaten at home. Barcelona are currently five points ahead at the summit - admittedly having played one game more - so this is a pivotal match for Real to win or risk the champions extending their lead further.

Valencia will be without David Silva through a knee injury but David Villa, the league's top-scorer with 11 goals, is fit to face the team that tried to sign him in the summer. "(David) Silva is just as good (as Ronaldo and Kaka) and plays in a similar position to those two," said Valencia's David Albelda. "If Ronaldo and Kaka don't come all the better and if there are more of their players out even better."

Derby challenge
Barcelona have a tricky game of their own with a derby against Espanyol at Camp Nou on Saturday and can heap pressure on Real ahead of the Valencia game. Espanyol were one of only two teams to win at Camp Nou in the league last season and could do with another derby win to improve on their league position of 14th.

Barcelona's giant Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in the last three league outings to take his season's tally to 10 and is revelling playing in the attacking-minded side. "I am scoring so many goals for Barcelona because we are a team that attack a lot," said Ibrahimovic. "We attack with five or six players and the mentality is totally different to Italy where not conceding is more important than scoring."

Ibrahimovic could be without his strike partner Lionel Messi for the derby after the Argentine picked up an ankle knock in the 2-1 UEFA Champions League win at Dinamo Kiev which sent the holders into the last 16 of the competition. It is Barcelona's final league match before the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 so the champions will be keen to sign off with victory to at least maintain their five-point cushion.

Elsewhere Atletico Madrid host Villarreal at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday in a match-up between two sides recovering from horrid starts. Both these sides harboured top four aspirations in pre-season but Atletico had their worst league start in 56 years while Villarreal had their worst start in the club's history.

"Both teams are in a similar situation and we have the squads to be much higher in the table," said Villarreal's Diego Godin. Villarreal are two points better off than Atletico, down in 13th place, and neither side can afford many more slip-ups or risk missing out on Europe altogether.

After surrendering third to Valencia, Sevilla travel to Sporting Gijon on Sunday looking to resurrect their title charge. Sevilla have drawn their last two home matches to fall nine points behind Barcelona although they have a game in hand.

Elsewhere high-flying Real Mallorca go in search of their first away win of the season at Osasuna on Sunday. Mallorca have won all seven of their home matches to climb to sixth but remarkably have yet to win on their travels.