La Liga braces for relegation tension
Real Zaragoza coach Javier Aguirre has told his players they will be "playing for their lives" as La Liga's relegation scrap reaches its climax on Saturday. Any one of six teams could still join Hercules and Almeria in dropping down to the Segunda Division with Zaragoza, Deportivo La Coruna, Getafe, Osasuna, Real Sociedad and Mallorca all in danger.
Zaragoza occupy the third relegation spot on 42 points, one adrift of Getafe and Depor who themselves lie a point behind Osasuna, Real Sociedad and Mallorca. With Sociedad facing Getafe in San Sebastian, all six teams have their fate in their own hands. Aguirre sees that fact as a big advantage as he prepares to take his side to Levante this weekend.
Although the Mexican coach admitted after last weekend's 1-0 victory over Espanyol that he did not know if Los Blanquillos would control their own fate - a mistake he put down to "not being good at maths" - he now believes his players have what it takes to survive the drop.
He told Marca: "The players have been receptive to my ideas and we are optimistic about our chances. The players understand the situation. They know they are playing for their lives and to go down wouldn't be good. We have 90 minutes to play for our future."
The mood is similar in La Coruna where veteran defender Manuel Pablo says Saturday's clash with Valencia will be the biggest game in his 13 years with the club. Despite winning the title in 2000 and making the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2004, Pablo believes this weekend's game is more important than some of those in the club's golden period early in the last decade and he is confident there will be a positive outcome for the Galicians.
He told Marca: "The feeling on the street is that this is the biggest game since I arrived here. The one where we won the league was a big one too, but in the last few weeks the fans have been coming to training stressing to us that this one is the most important. I can't imagine Depor in the Segunda. Obviously it could happen, but that thought has never passed through my head. I am confident we will beat Valencia."
Osasuna will be sure of survival with a draw at home to Villarreal - whose defeat last weekend to Real Madrid confirmed they will finish in fourth place. Mallorca also just need a point to secure top-flight status. However, they will be up against seventh-placed Atletico Madrid.
Sevilla travel to Espanyol, whilst Athletic Bilbao visit Racing Santander. Atletico, Sevilla and Athletic have already secured a place in the UEFA Europa League but are battling to avoid seventh place which would mean they enter the tournament in the qualifying rounds.
At the Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo will attempt to break the all-time record for the number of goals in a Spanish top-flight season. The Madrid winger has scored nine times in his last three games to equal the record of 38 goals jointly held by Telmo Zarra and Hugo Sanchez. The former Manchester United man should have ample opportunity to add to that tally as basement boys Almeria - who lost 8-0 earlier in the season to Barcelona - travel to the capital.
Barcelona are expected to give their stars another weekend off ahead of the Champions League final at Wembley. Of the team who started last weekend's 0-0 draw with Depor, only Victor Valdes and Javier Mascherano are expected to line up in London next week. The champions will travel to in-form Malaga with a similar line-up this weekend, although, there may be important minutes for Eric Abidal and Bojan Krkic who are returning to fitness.
Relegated Hercules will bring the curtain down on their first season in La Liga since 1996/97 at home to Sporting Gijon.