MADRID (AFP) - Having put their recent bout of jitters behind
them, league leaders Real Madrid will hope to be able to consolidate their
position at the top of the table with a win at Albacete on Saturday.
To boost their confidence, Real medical officials on Thursday
said that Zinedine Zidane would be fit to play after missing France's 0-0 draw
with the Netherlands due to a bruised leg.
David Beckham is expected to be able to play after also being
absent from international action during the week due to a dead leg.
"His right hamstring is still inflamed and there is a bit of
pain when he runs but every day he is getting better and we hope he will be
ready to face Albacete," said Real club doctor Juan Carlos Hernandez.
One minor concern for coach Carlos Queiroz is that he is likely
to be without his Spanish international defender Ivan Helguera, who has a groin
injury, but Francisco Pavon stands by for a recall to the back four.
Pavon is likely to be the uncapped player in the Real starting
line up but, by contrast, Albacete are unlikely to be able to boast of anyone in
their first 11 who has ever played internationally.
The differences between the two clubs do not end there.
Real have been the kings of Europe nine times while Albacete
have only ever spent six seasons in the top flight of Spanish football and only
once finished in the top half of the table.
Albacete started the season as the poorest team in the Spanish
first division with a budget of 13 million euros while Real boast of a listed
budget more than 20 times greater, with 293 million euros to their name for this
Nevertheless, despite languishing down in 15th, Albacete have
often proven a handful at home this season and, given their spluttering away
form, nobody is assuming that Real will walk away with three easy points.
Real will have to win though if they are to maintain pole
They have 64 points from 30 games but Valencia are only one
point behind and play host to bottom club Murcia on Sunday, who have yet to win
away from home this season.
"Regardless of whether we win or loss the title in the end, we
are not going to give up fighting for it until the end," warned Valencia captain
Valencia coach Rafa Benitez will have back his Argentine duo of
Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala after the pair missed the 3-0 win at Racing
Santander last Sunday due to international duty.
However, Spanish international defender Carlos Marchena is
suspended and will probably be expected to be replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino.
Barcelona, fourth with 55 points but only one point behind and a
game in hand over third-placed Deportivo La Coruna who are at home to Real Betis
on Sunday, are champing at the bit to get back into action.
The Catalan club had their game at Betis postponed due to bad
weather last Sunday but they are defending a nine game winning streak and
looking to extend their current run in the Nou Camp against Villarreal on
Things could hardly be better for Barca coach Frank Rijkaard at
the moment, apart from having a travel-weary striker Javier Saviola to hand.
"The Argentine federation insisted that Saviola went to Buenos
Aires early and then he sat on the bench and didn't get to play a minute in
their World Cup match against Ecuador," said Rijkaard.