Villarreal next test for Barca

Spanish league leaders Barcelona face another stern test of their title credentials at Villarreal this weekend after recent crunch games against heavyweights Sevilla, Valencia and Real Madrid.

Last weekend all eyes were on Barca, who left it late with two goals in the last ten minutes for a 2-0 home victory against Real Madrid. The rough treatment meted out to Lionel Messi led to the rejuvenated Eidur Gudjohnsen, who started the game in the absence of the injured Andres Iniesta, to call for more player protection.

"Referees are not just there to decide on what are fouls, they must look after the players, if you don't do that then you are going to have players like Messi who will not last more than 15 minutes," said the Icelander.

Adding spice to the encounter, Villarreal midfielder Santi Cazorla said that this was just part of football. "There are always kicks in a game, (Marcos) Senna and myself receive lots of kicks but we accept it as normal and we do not think any more about it," he said.

Still in the hunt
Real Madrid may have lost last Saturday but they did enough against Barca to convince many that under Juande Ramos they are still in the title hunt despite the 12-point gap from the top. "We are not going to ease off, there is a long way to go and the most important thing is to start a good run," says captain Raul Gonzalez.

Real face Valencia with their injury worries easing, but Wesley Sneijder and Fabio Cannavaro, who picked up knocks against Barca, join those doubtful for the game. Valencia winger Joaquin Sanchez says that "anyone with blood in their veins would be looking for revenge" after their Spanish Super Cup defeat by Real in the summer.

They will also be looking to improve a poor home record, but they may have to do so without Alexis Ruano and Miguel Angel Angulo if they fail fitness tests. UEFA Champions League-chasing Sevilla travel to bottom three side Mallorca having recovered well from defeat against Barcelona, with victories against Real Madrid and Villarreal. Mallorca need to battle back from the demoralising 4-1 defeat by Getafe which has left coach Gregorio Manzano on the ropes.

Meanwhile Atletico Madrid have moved above neighbours Real for the first time in ten years, and they now face an Espanyol, who have not won in the league in six attempts and appearing no nearer to solving their problems under new coach Jose Manuel Esnal 'Mane'.

In-form Getafe will be a worrying prospect for bottom-placed Osasuna, who are in the midst of an injury crisis with eight players missing. Getafe are pushing for a place in Europe along with Deportivo La Coruna, who face Recreativo Huelva with coach Miguel Angel Lotina looking to maintain his policy of player rotations.

Racing Santander and Sporting Gijon have both suffered a dip in form recently, but have the chance to respond and finish the year on a high when they take on Malaga and Almeria respectively.

Betis take on Athletic Bilbao without Mehmet Aurelio and Achille Emana, who have been revelations for the club this season but are missing through suspension.