Champions face derby challenge
© Getty Images

Champions Barcelona aim to complete a fantastic 2010 by staying top of the Spanish first division for Christmas with their last fixture of the year a mouth-watering local derby at high-flying Espanyol on Saturday.

Barcelona lie two points clear of rivals Real Madrid after nine consecutive league wins but take on an Espanyol that are fourth and boast a perfect seven wins at home. Jose Mourinho's Real side are at home to an out-of-sorts Sevilla on Sunday hoping to maintain their 100 per cent home record and keep pace with the league leaders.

Barcelona have scored 21 goals in their last four league outings, including the 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid, without conceding a single goal and go into the Espanyol game brimming with confidence. "I have been at this club for many years and we have never been at this current level," said Barcelona's Spanish 2010 FIFA World Cup™ star Xavi. "It is a privilege to play in this Barcelona team and this group wants more and more every day. We don't get tired of competing."

Xavi is one of three players shortlisted for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or along with his Barcelona team-mates Andres Iniesta and current holder Lionel Messi. Messi has scored 17 league goals already this term and Barcelona hope to continue their perfect away record of seven wins, however, Espanyol have yet to drop a point at home so something has to give.

"When we play against them (Barcelona) we do so without fear, pressing them and imposing our style," said Espanyol's Raul Baena. "Last season (0-0 at the Cornella-El Prat) it turned out well for us."

Madrid seek continued momentum
Real have bounced back from the 5-0 Clasico humiliation to Barcelona with two league wins and hope to end 2010 with a home victory over free-falling Sevilla on Sunday. Real have won all seven of their league games at their Santiago Bernabeu home and come up against a Sevilla that have lost their last four league outings.

Madrid manager Mourinho is handicapped by injuries and suspensions but urged his team to get one more win to keep on Barcelona's heels for the new year. "We don't have Xabi (Alonso), Marcelo or Sergio (Ramos) (for the Sevilla game) and we also don't have players who have been out injured a while such as Kaka and (Fernando) Gago," explained Mourinho. "The number one objective is beating a great team in Sevilla to reach Christmas in good shape for the title race next year."

Sevilla reached the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League with a 2-2 draw against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday but have slumped to 11th in the Spanish first division, eight points off the top four, after losing four consecutive league matches. "I am struggling to influence a group who are suffering from low morale," declared Sevilla coach Gregorio Manzano.

Manzano replaced the axed Antonio Alvarez in September with the target of lifting the club, fourth last season, back into the UEFA Champions League places but instead the club have fallen into mid-table obscurity.

In other matches, third-placed Villarreal hope to continue their impressive home run with victory over Real Mallorca on Saturday. Villarreal are unbeaten at El Madrigal with six wins and a draw and hope to keep fourth-place Espanyol, two points behind, at bay.

Valencia, who have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League, are three points back from Espanyol in fifth and travel to promoted Real Sociedad on Saturday.

At the bottom Real Zaragoza continue to prop up the table with nine points, four points from safety, and coach Javier Aguirre is still waiting for his first win in charge after collecting two points from a possible 12.

On Sunday, Mexican manager Aguirre takes his Zaragoza side to old club Osasuna where he managed for four years guiding the unfashionable club to fourth in the 2005/06 season.