This day in history of Ronaldo
MADRID (AFP) - Valencia have swept aside the importance of their 3-0 Spanish Cup defeat to Real Madrid in midweek to affirm they are now the main challengers to the reigning Spanish league champions.
"We have taken over from Barcelona as the main rivals of Madrid, stepping into the vacuum Barca have left behind," Valencia president Jaime Orti declared earlier this week.
"We are on a par with Real. Valencia have won, and deserve the respect of everybody, not just Madrid," added Orti.
Orti's affirmation may be bold - but it comes as no surprise. Valencia, the champions in 2002, lead Real by one point in the league table and will be out to boost their title hopes by beating Osasuna at home on Sunday.
Valencia have won their last four games at their Mestalla stadium and are unbeaten in nine outings - while the Pamplona-based side have only won once in 24 visits to Valencia, and that was 12 seasons ago.
"The players will want to show in the best way possible that the defeat in Madrid was not a reflection of their true abilities," Valencia coach Rafa Benitez suggested on Thursday.
Benitez will be without Spanish international midfielder Ruben Baraja, suspended, and Mohamed Sissolo, who is on African Nations Cup duty for Mali, leaving Valencia short of a midfield playmaker.
In order to fill this particular vacuum, Benitez is expected to ask Pablo Aimar to play deeper than usual, leaving his options open as to who will accompany Mista Ferrer up front.
Real meanwhile host Villarreal on Saturday and know that their 100 per cent home record in the league will be under more threat than on most of the other 10 occasions they have won in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in this campaign.
Last season, Villarreal managed a 1-1 draw and, with them flying high in fifth position and bidding for a place in Europe next season, they are determined to go one better this time around.
"The key to coming away from the Bernabeu with something is maintaining maximum concentration from the first minute to the last," explained Villarreal's Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson on Thursday.
"The key to winning is making sure that when we are in front of goal we make the most of those opportunities because we know Real Madrid will," added Anderson, a veteran of Real Madrid derbies with his former club Barcelona.
Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz has a few dilemmas to resolve ahead of Villarreal's visit.
Queiroz will have to replace his suspended Spanish international Ivan Helguera and the Portuguese coach is expected to turn to Jose Maria 'Guti' Gutierrez.
There is also a big question mark over the fitness of Ronaldo, who pulled a thigh muscle in Wednesday's win over Valencia.
Real medical staff will examine Ronaldo again on Friday before deciding if he can play.
If Ronaldo gets the thumbs down, Javier Portillo is likely to grab what would be just his third start this season with both hands.
Real are also without FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman is out for at least another week after tearing a thigh muscle.
Catalan giants Barcelona travel to Sevilla on Sunday and a win could see them finally claw their way back into the top six after an erratic first half of the season.
However, Barca's beleagured Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard will keep his fingers crossed that Thursday night's Spanish Cup game against Real Zaragoza will not leave him with more players on his club's already extensive injury list.
Saturday (kick off GMT)
Real Madrid v Villarreal (1830)
Albacete v Atletico Madrid (2030)
Celta Vigo v Real Sociedad (1600)
Espanyol v Real Betis (1600)
Malaga v Valladolid (1600)
Racing Santander v Murcia (1600)
Valencia v Osasuna (1600)
Real Zaragoza v Real Mallorca (1600)
Sevilla v Barcelona (1800)
Athletic Bilbao v Deportivo La Coruna (2000)
Valencia have swept aside the importance of their 3-0 Spanish Cup defeat to Real Madrid in midweek to affirm they are now the main challengers to the reigning Spanish league champions.