Valencia set sights on leaders Barcelona

January 12, 2006
By Mark Elkington

MADRID, Jan 12 (Reuters) - In-form Valencia tackle second-placed Osasuna at home in the Primera Liga on Saturday, confident that they can mount a title challenge to leaders Barcelona.

Quique Sanchez Flores's side have crept up to third in the league on the back of a seven match unbeaten run, though they remain six points short of Osasuna and 10 adrift of Barca.

'It is reckless to say Barcelona are already champions,' Flores told a news conference.

'They are about to lose one of their most decisive players (Samuel Eto'o to the African Nations Cup) for up to a month while playing in three competitions, with a high profile match against Chelsea in the Champions League to boot.

'I don't think Barca will be able to maintain their pace and they still have to play us at home, so we shouldn't lose faith.'

Valencia eliminated Villarreal in the King's Cup on Wednesday and have not conceded a goal for five consecutive matches in all competitions.

Osasuna have struggled since the winter break and were knocked out of the King's Cup by Deportivo Coruna on Wednesday, and lost their 100 percent home record in the league drawing 1-1 with Racing Santander last weekend.

Their two leadings scorers, Savo Milosevic and Pierre Webo, are missing due to injury and African Nations Cup commitments respectively.

CASSANO DOUBTFUL

Champions Barcelona can make it 17 consecutive wins in all competitions on Sunday when they entertain second-bottom Athletic Bilbao in the Nou Camp.

It will be 18-goal Eto'o's last game before leaving to join up with Cameroon.

Fourth-placed Deportivo host bottom club Alaves while fifth-placed Villarreal visit Racing.

Real Madrid, who are sixth, face another tough match at home against seventh-placed Sevilla, as they look to reignite their league campaign.

Juan Ramon Lopez Caro is without injured strikers Ronaldo and Raul, while new signing Antonio Cassano remains a doubt as he struggles to regain his fitness.

Real have only won once in their last four league outings.

Atletico Madrid caretaker coach Pepe Murcia takes charge of his first game away at third-from-bottom Real Betis, following the sacking of Carlos Bianchi on Thursday.

The Madrid club have not won in nine league starts and fell 1-0 in the first leg of their last-16 King's Cup tie against Real Zaragoza on Wednesday.