Albiol: La Liga is not decided
Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol hopes his team can end an important week in style with a win over his former club Valencia when they return to the Mestalla tomorrow.
Albiol was sent off in the 1-1 draw at home to Barcelona in the Primera Division last weekend, causing him to miss Wednesday night's Copa del Rey final victory over Pep Guardiola's side in Valencia. Madrid are now set to face Barça over two legs in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, starting on Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Jose Mourinho's men first return to the Mestalla for a league meeting with Unai Emery's side tomorrow.
Even though Madrid are eight points behind their biggest rivals Barça with six games to play, Albiol - now back from his ban - says his side still have a chance of winning the title. "The league has not been decided yet," he said. "We have to give everything, but I have faith in my team and I think we'll win in Valencia."
Albiol, who made over 100 league appearances for Los Che, is set to start as Mourinho is expected to make changes ahead of the visit of Barça on Wednesday. "I have to be in the best possible condition to help my team," the defender said. "We have got to the fundamental part of the season, when titles are decided."
Valencia are third, behind just Madrid and Barça, and Albiol is wary of his former club. "Valencia usually play well against the big teams," he said. "They are the best team in the 'other league', they are third and they have won a lot of points - it will be a difficult test for us."
Mourinho began with all three centre-forwards - Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Emmanuel Adebayor - on the bench at Mestalla on Wednesday, as well as Kaka, so the Portuguese coach has plenty of options to refresh his side after 120 minutes of intense football against Barça.
Mesut Ozil is likely to start after a substitute role in the first Clasico and playing just 70 minutes on Wednesday, but Angel Di Maria looked exhausted after the final and could be rested. Ricardo Carvalho is banned for Wednesday's semi-final first leg and should start, but Sami Khedira is injured and may be out for the rest of the season. Fernando Gago is also sidelined.
Valencia have won their last three matches, scoring 12 goals in the process. Emery's side have beaten Getafe 4-2, Villarreal 5-0 and Almeria 3-0, with in-form striker Roberto Soldado scoring seven times in those games. Emery expects Madrid to rotate, but says that will not make his side's task any easier tomorrow.
"The ones who didn't play on Wednesday will be even more dangerous - I'm sure of that," he said. "They are very dangerous on the counter-attack and we have to know how to read their game - if we are able to do that then we can come out on top."
Valencia's players will form a guard of honour on the pitch to welcome the Copa del Rey winners after Wednesday's final at the same ground. But Emery, who will be without Bruno Saltor and Tino Costa, warned: "The final for Valencia is on Saturday."