Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has warned runaway leaders Barcelona his side are not going to relinquish their La Liga title without a fight. Madrid slumped 13 points adrift of Barça on Sunday after being held to a home draw by struggling Espanyol and then seeing Tito Vilanova's men brush aside second-placed Atletico Madrid 4-1 at the Nou Camp.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho admitted after the Espanyol game that it would be "practically impossible" to now retain their title, and with Barca having dropped only two points all season, it is tough to see how the nine-time European champions can claw back the difference.
However, if they do end up losing their crown to Barça, Madrid will be determined not to hand it to their arch rivals on a platter. Benzema told France Football magazine: "I hope we can give chase to Barça. It will be tough, but we haven't said the final word on this."
Madrid will be desperate to make amends for their Espanyol setback and end 2012 on a winning note this weekend, but it will not be easy for Mourinho's men as they must travel to fourth-placed Malaga. Malaga have already beaten the likes of AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg and Valencia at home this season and another high-profile scalp on Saturday would see them move to within two points of Madrid.
While Madrid's problems this season continue to mount, things could hardly be rosier at the Nou Camp where Barça are going from strength to strength both on and off the pitch. Sunday's victory over Atletico was their ninth on the trot in La Liga and saw them open up a nine-point gap over the rest of the field.
Even better news was to come in midweek though, as Barça announced they had secured key trio Lionel Messi, Carles Puyol and Xavi on long-term contracts. Argentina superstar Messi, who has scored 90 goals in 2012, is now tied to the Catalan giants until 2018, while Spain internationals Xavi and Carles Puyol have agreed extensions until 2016.
Barça travel to promoted Real Valladolid on Saturday. The final round of La Liga fixtures before the winter break starts tomorrow night with three matches, the most notable of which pits bottom two Espanyol and Deportivo La Coruna against each other.
Both clubs are on seven-match winless runs in league and cup, although Espanyol have drawn their last three under new coach Javier Aguirre, including that morale-boosting result at the Bernabeu.
Espanyol defender Diego Colotto, who will be facing his former club, said: "We try to win every game that we play and being at home must be a positive point for us. We want to go into the break with a win and continue our improvement. It's the first final. The objective is survival."
Tomorrow's other two matches see Levante go to Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad host freefalling Sevilla. On Friday, Atletico take on Celta Vigo while Valencia will look to bounce back from their first defeat under new boss Ernesto Valverde when they welcome Getafe to the Mestalla.
The remaining matches are on Saturday, when Real Betis take on Real Mallorca, Osasuna face Granada and Athletic Bilbao play Real Zaragoza.