Real looking to pressure stumbling Barca

Real Madrid will be looking to extend its perfect record at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium against Levante and apply pressure on stumbling leaders Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga on Saturday.

Following a near-perfect start this year, Barcelona slipped up with yesterday’s 2-1 loss at Arsenal, following a draw at Sporting Gijon in the league.

Madrid has won all 19 matches at the Bernabeu going into Saturday’s match, where a victory will stretch coach Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten run on home soil to nine years.

The last time the former FC Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan coach failed to take points at his home ground was when Porto lost to Beira Mar 3-2 in February 2002.

Madrid – which will be without suspended goalkeeper Iker Casillas – is five points behind Barcelona, which plays Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Barcelona went on a league-record, 16-match winning streak before drawing 1-1 at Sporting and there is some slight concern following the Champions League slip-up, a match the Catalans controlled before surrendering two late goals.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola may not rush defender Carles Puyol back against fifth-place Athletic, which had won four straight matches before Monday’s loss at Real Mallorca.

Puyol has been out of action since January 22 with a knee injury.

All four of Barca’s losses this season have come without Puyol in the lineup and, with fellow centre back Gerard Pique suspended for the return leg against Arsenal on March 8, Guardiola may prefer not to risk his captain’s health with its European place on the line.

“We can take lessons from the defeat,” Barcelona fullback Maxwell said.

Madrid is riding high from its 1-0 win at Espanyol on Sunday, when it played with 10 men from the second minute following Casillas’ sending off.

Back-up goalkeeper Antonio Adan will get his first career start against Levante, which has won three straight matches to move two points clear of the relegation zone.

With Madrid’s round of 16 Champions League match against French side Olympique Lyonnais coming up next week, Mourinho may rest some key players, which means Kaká could play after missing out against Espanyol.

The Brazil playmaker, a former World Player of the Year, has struggled to make the starting lineup with the exciting Mesut Özil in devastating form.

Striker Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo could get the nod over Frenchman Karim Benzema for the second straight match after a strong performance against Espanyol.

“If I were Barca, I’d still be very happy because the current situation is very comfortable for them,” Mourinho said.

“The pressure is on those who are coming from behind, but the mathematics say it is possible. The Champions League could distract them.”

Espanyol is looking to end a three-match losing skid and continue consolidating its chances of qualifying for next season’s Europa League when it takes on Osasuna on Sunday.

Espanyol is sixth with 37 points – six better than Getafe, Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Mallorca.

The match will be Osasuna coach Jose Luis Mendilibar’s first in charge since replacing Jose Antonio Camacho.

Osasuna is 18th and occupying the last relegation spot.

Villarreal plays last-placed Malaga on Sunday looking to end a two-match losing run, which allowed Valencia to move ahead of it into third.

Valencia is up against Sporting on Saturday.

Atletico Madrid is also eager to turn around its poor start to the year at Zaragoza on Saturday.

Atletico has won only once in 10 matches to start the calendar year, with four straight losses.

Other Spanish La Liga fixtures: Getafe vs Racing Santander; Almeria vs Deportivo La Coruna; Sevilla vs Hercules; and Real Sociedad vs Mallorca.

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