The big game at the weekend features under-pressure Real Madrid and improving but still erratic Deportivo La Coruna.
Real have not won in six games, while Depor followed up last weeks 2-1 win at Real Vallecano with victory over Bayern Munich to send the Germans out of the Champions League.
Bernebau club skipper Fernando Hierro wasted little time stating the importance of the clash, saying: “This is going tobe a tough outing. Deportivo is one of the candidates to win the Liga.
“It will be one of the matches of the year. We are going to prepare for a big tough game,” he admitted.
Employing his immense experience, Hierro attempted to play down talk of crisis at the club, after Real were savaged by the Spanish press for their performances in recent weeks.
“Nobody doubts we are a great squad,’ said Hierro. ‘Just a month ago, we were the dream team,” he states.
“We are the same team, but now with a streak of a few unfavourable results recently. Now it is time to prove our character and maturity. My experience tells me that the only way out of this situation is serenity and hard work,” added Hierro.
“We are calm because we have proved that we can get out of this sort of situations on many occasions. Besides, I do not see any reason to panic.”
Although Hierro exudes calm, coach Vincente Del Bosque is beginning to feel the pressure, if a midweek outburst is anything to go by. In response to press criticism, Del Bosque snapped: “The media ought to look at Barca, not at Real, if they wanted to speak about a crisis”.
Given Real Madrid’s dismal away foorm in LA Liga this season – no win away from the Bernabeu since March – a home win andanother uncomfortbale week in store for del Bosque, looks the likeliest outcome.
A number of Barca players, including PhilippeCocu and Javier Saviola, have spoken of their surprise at del Bosque’s attack, as they prepared to travel to Racing Santander.
Barca triumphed 6-1 last week against Alaves, and a reserve side was still good enough to see off Brugge in the Champions League in midweek.
Surprise unbeaten leaders Real Sociedad could be without six goal top scorer Darko Kovacevic at Villareal, as they look to extend their stay at the top of the division.
Meanwhile, second placed Valencia, so impressive in beating Liverpool on Wednesday, visit Espanyol, who have been rejuvenated under new boss Ramon Moya. The Barcelona-based club have won their first two games under Moya, with the coach explaining that work on the players’ mindsets has been the main reason for the upturn inform.
“My work with the squad since I started has been mainly psychological,” explained Moya.
“The players now believe that they can win matches.
“My philosophy is centred on three axis – humility, work and to play each game as it comes,” he continued.
And Moya remains confident that his team will recover and move away from danger.
“I have a group of very talented players and with a little mental conditioning they will pull us out of this difficult situation.”
Deportivo La Coruna v Real Madrid
Athletico Bilbao v Celta Vigo
Osasuna v Recreativo
Real Betis v Malaga