It's second versus third in the penultimate game of the first half of the season.No Room For Slip-Ups
Real Madrid are the only side with a hundred percent record at home in La Liga, winning all eight of their matches at the Santiago Bernabeu so far this season, scoring 26 and conceding just three.
Coach Jose Mourinho has a 144-game unbeaten home record to protect. But simply avoiding defeat won't be enough for Madridistas, who will demand a comprehensive victory in every game. And the 'Special One' along with his proud home streak will be put to the test when they host a Yellow Submarine side who have pleasantly surprised in La Liga this term.
Los Blancos can increase their gap to third place Villarreal to 11 points, but it's what's above the 'Casa Blanca' in the standings that will be of concern. Barcelona visit Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday evening and the Blaugrana could temporarily increase their lead to five points and put the pressue on Mourinho's men.
As much as the Merengues would like to build a cushion to the chasing pack behind them, it's overtaking, trimming or maintaining the current two point gap to Barca that will be the main priority.
It's Sink Or Swim
With the league already shaping out to be a two-horse race at the midway point of the season, Villarreal can all but count themselves out of title contention if they lose at Madrid on Sunday and potentially fall 13 points behind Barcelona.
A deficit of that margin has been surmountable before in previous seasons, but you just have a feeling that it's not something that will happen with this current Barca and Madrid class.
But an upset victory will see El Submarino cut the gap to second down to just five points, and in the process become the first football club since Beira-Mar in 2002 to defeat Mourinho on his home turf.
It will be easier said than done, though. In addition to Los Blancos' flawless form in their own backyard, Villarreal have often struggled on the road, winning just eight times over the course of the last 12 months stretching back to last season.
Villarreal's main objective now would be to ensure they nail down third place in the table and secure automatic qualification to next season's Champions League. The hold a five point cushion over Valencia at the start of the weekend but if they allow any of their direct rivals to close the gap, Juan Carlos Garrido's side could start feeling the pressure as we approach the second half of the campaign.
Madrid's first team stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Mesut Oezil, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas will return to action after being rested for the academic midweek Copa del Rey clash with Levante. Pepe, however, is out for a month after picking up a calf injury, while Gonzalo Higuain is sidelined for at least two months. Mourinho has confirmed that Kaka will play, but will not start.
The Yellow Submarine could not afford to rest their key players in midweek against Valencia in the Copa. Nilmar and Marcos Senna remain sidelined with injury, while veteran defender Carlos Marchena is also out.
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