MADRID, Jan 7, 2011 (AFP) - Title hopefuls Real Madrid face their toughest home league match of the season so far when they host third-place Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.
Real have a flawless eight wins at home and hope to make Villarreal their latest victims to stay in touch with league leaders Barcelona who are currently two points ahead.
Jose Mourinho's Madrid have won their last four league matches, but come up against a Villarreal side on a high, after coming from two goals down to beat Valencia 4-2 on Thursday and reach the quarter-finals of the Kings Cup.
|Barcelona's French defender Eric Abidal (L) celebrates his goal with teammates during the King's Cup match Athletic Bilbao vs FC Barcelona on January 5, 2011 at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao. Match ended 1-1. AFP|
Mourinho has been short of strikers with Argentine attacker Gonzalo Higuain out injured.
However, Brazilian international playmaker Kaka is back from injury to boost his attacking options.
Kaka, a 65-million-euro signing from AC Milan, played his first game of the season as a late second half substitute in Monday’s 3-2 win over Getafe after spending six months on the sidelines with a knee injury.
"When you are out injured you miss your team-mates, the dressing room, training and the pressure," said Kaka.
"In Spain I certainly haven’t reached my top level and it is a great challenge for me to do that and to play to my best without injuries."
Champions Barcelona are on a run of 11 consecutive league wins and aim to keep the ball rolling with victory at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
Barcelona reached the quarter-finals of the Kings Cup defeating Athletic Bilbao on away goals after a 1-1 draw at San Mames on Wednesday with French full back Eric Abidal scoring his first ever goal for Barcelona.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola, who celebrated his 150th game in charge against Bilbao, heaped praise on Abidal who kept Barcelona’s treble hopes alive.
"Abidal has been spectacular in the last few games and it was an impressive goal to win the tie for us," Guardiola said. "It would have been big news if we had lost but we managed to get another important victory."
Depor also reached the last eight of the Kings Cup by overcoming Cordoba and have only lost once at the Riazor Stadium in the league.
In other matches, Valencia take on Levante in the city derby on Sunday looking to get over their painful cup exit to Villarreal on Thursday.
Valencia sit fourth, three points above fifth-placed Espanyol, and repeating last season's third-place finish is the target.
Espanyol host third from bottom Real Zaragoza on Sunday aiming to get over a recent blip of three successive league losses and a last 16 Kings Cup exit.
Espanyol were defeated 2-1 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid after drawing the second leg 1-1 on Thursday so now all that is left is the league.
Elsewhere Sevilla ended a run of five consecutive defeats with a 1-0 win over Osasuna on Sunday and go into Saturday’s match at Real Sociedad with wind in their sails after progressing in the Kings Cup.
Holders Sevilla crushed Malaga 3-0 to reach the last eight and now bid to improve on their 10th position in the league.
Spanish international winger Jesus Navas, only just back from injury, limped out of the Malaga game with a calf strain and is a doubt for the Sociedad game.
With the halfway point of the season approaching, Sporting Gijon have sunk to the bottom of the table after failing to win in their last 10 league matches, and their next match is a trip to Racing Santander on Sunday.
"It is a worrying situation but things would look different with a win and we need to get it as soon as possible, which is against Racing Santander," said Sporting coach Manolo Preciado.
Malaga v Athletic Bilbao (1700 GMT), Real Sociedad v Sevilla (1900 GMT), Deportivo La Coruna v Barcelona (2100 GMT)
Sunday (1600 GMT unless stated)(
Real Mallorca v Almeria, Osasuna v Getafe, Espanyol v Real Zaragoza, Racing Santander v Sporting Gijon, Real Madrid v Villarreal (1800 GMT), Levante v Valencia (2000 GMT)
Hercules v Atletico Madrid (2000 GMT)