After a phenomenal start to his Real Madrid career, Jose Mourinho is bidding to keep his side on top of the Spanish table ahead of the season's first Clasico against Barcelona on 29 November.
Real sit a point above champions Barcelona after nine wins and two draws in the league - making Mourinho the most successful managerial debutant in Spanish league history - and the capital giants will hope for another three points at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. Madrid have won all five of their league matches at the Santiago Bernabeu under Mourinho, who has been helped by the 12-goal haul of Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Everyone envies Mourinho, which is normal because he is the best," said Ronaldo, who inspired Portugal to a 4-0 demolition of world champions Spain in a friendly on Wednesday. "It is fantastic to work with him. He doesn't do anything special, he is a discipline coach and he pays attention to the details. It's amazing."
A suspension saw Mourinho watch the 1-0 win at Sporting Gijon last Sunday from the stands, and he will be expecting to see a more convincing performance against Bilbao. Bilbao are a creditable eighth and their Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente - a reported Real Madrid and Barcelona target - is in fine form with eight goals.
"It is a complicated match and more so because of how Real are doing at the moment," admitted Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros. "However, if the team is at the same level as it has shown on many occasions and strong defensively, we will have chances."
Barcelona on the road
Champions Barcelona travel to third-from-bottom Almeria on Saturday. Argentine star Lionel Messi has been the key man for Barcelona of late, scoring in seven consecutive games in all competitions, and has ten league goals to his name.
He also netted his first ever goal against Brazil as Argentina sank their arch-rivals 1-0 in a mid-week friendly in Doha. "What else can you say about Messi?" said team-mate Andres Iniesta. "There are no words left! Let's hope he continues like he is. This is the perfect atmosphere for him to progress even further."
Despite being just 23, Messi is Barcelona's fourth highest league scorer in history with 98 goals in 153 appearances and his next target is third-placed Samuel Eto'o on 108 goals. 2010 FIFA World Cup™-winner David Villa, a €40m summer capture from Valencia, is also beginning to find his feet with four goals in his last three league matches.
Third-placed Villarreal have fallen off the pace at the top following their 3-1 loss against Barcelona last time out and the league looks a two-horse race with less than a third of the season gone. Villarreal, six points behind Real, have another tough test on Saturday when they host rivals Valencia, who are three points behind in fourth.
Villarreal have a flawless five wins at El Madrigal in the league and will begin as favourites against a Valencia side that have gone off the boil after a terrific start. "Even though we didn't play well against Getafe, we won and now we want to get over the recent dip in form and get back to how we were at the beginning of the season," said Valencia forward Aritz Aduriz.
Fifth-placed Sevilla are level on points with Valencia and will hope to make home advantage count in Sunday's match against Real Mallorca.