La Liga: Injury-hit Real hope to maintain top spot

Real Madrid will once again be shorn of a host of star names when Las Palmas make their first visit to the Santiago Bernabeu in 13 years on Saturday.

Real Madrid are joint top of La Liga with Barcelona but have a much superior goal difference.   -  Getty Images

Real Madrid will once again be shorn of a host of star names when Las Palmas make their first visit to the Santiago Bernabeu in 13 years on Saturday.

The Canary Islanders were thrashed 7-0 the last time the sides clashed, but their hopes of pulling off a huge shock have been boosted as Madrid boss Rafael Benitez confirmed on Friday that he will be without Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.

“They could force it and be very close to being ready in time, but we don't want to do that because we have a lot of games coming up and we think we have the resources to face the next game,” said the former Chelsea and Liverpool manager.

Las Palmas have already changed their coach just nine games into their return to the top flight as Paco Herrera was sacked despite guiding them to promotion.

Quique Setien got off to a promising start with a 0-0 draw at home to Villarreal last weekend, which at least moved Las Palmas off the bottom on goal difference, but is aware of the dauting task that faces his side at the Bernabeu.

“Real Madrid are a team that doesn't need to play well to win,” he said. “They have the players to resolve a game in any moment. It will be a difficult game, but during this season we have seen other teams cause them problems and create chances to take something from the game.”

With Madrid and Barcelona tied on 21 points at the top of the table, a Real victory can take them clear for a few hours at least before Barca face Getafe later on Saturday.

The Catalans only managed a 0-0 draw at the Alfonso Perez Coliseum last season and are again debilitated by injuries and suspensions.

Javier Mascherano joins injured Argentina international teammate Lionel Messi on the sidelines due to a two-game ban for being sent-off against Eibar last weekend. Brazilian duo Rafinha and Douglas are long-term injury absentees, but midfielders Andres Iniesta and Sergi Roberto do return to the squad.

“We expect the normal type of game you get from all Fran Escriba sides,” Barca boss Luis Enrique said on Friday. “They will be well-organised in defence and have quality in attack. That stadium always brings back difficult memories for us.”

Simeone cautious

Atletico Madrid have the chance to usurp the big two and go top for just short of 24 hours when they travel to Deportivo la Coruna on Friday night.

Los Rojiblancos produced their best performance of the season in beating Valencia 2-1 last time out, but coach Diego Simeone doesn't want his talented young squad to get ahead of themselves.

“We always live for the next game. We have spoken with the team about leaving the past behind us and concentrating on what we do on Friday,” said the Argentine. “Every game is a new world and people will value what you are going to do, not what you have done.”

Simeone is expected to name the same starting line-up for the first time in 47 games despite an energy-sapping near 6,000 kilometre trip to face Kazakh champions Astana in the Champions League to come on Tuesday.

Sevilla have the chance to continue their upturn in form and make up lost ground on the top four caused by a poor start to the campaign when they travel to Villarreal on Saturday.

Villarreal still hold a five-point lead over Sevilla and Valencia in the battle between the three most likely candidates for the fourth Champions League place, but the Yellow Submarines have taken just one point from their last three games.

Valencia are badly in need of a win to ease the pressure on coach Nuno Espirito Santo when they host Levante in the Valencia derby.

Meanwhile, Celta Vigo can put David Moyes's position as Real Sociedad coach back under serious scrutiny should they bounce back from their first defeat of the season against Real last weekend with victory at Anoeta.

Fixtures

Deportivo la Coruna v Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid v Las Palmas, Villarreal v Sevilla, Valencia v Levante, Getafe v Barcelona, Real Sociedad v Celta Vigo, Eibar v Rayo Vallecano, Espanyol v Granada, Sporting Gijon v Malaga, Real Betis v Athletic Bilbao.

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