La Liga: Real Madrid focused on title run in

April 17, 2008

MADRID, April 17 (Reuters) - Leaders Real Madrid are trying to stave off the euphoria ahead of their trip north to face one of the season's surprise-packages Racing Santander in the Primera Liga on Sunday.

Last weekend's 1-0 win over Real Murcia, combined with further slip ups from their closest challengers Barcelona and Villarreal, left them nine points clear at the top with six games remaining.

During the week, much the of the talk in the Madrid-based media has focused on whether arch-rivals Barca will have to applaud them onto the pitch as champions at the Bernabeu, when the sides meet there three weeks from the end of the season.

'The sooner we can win the title the better,' Real's Portugal defender Pepe said.

'We need to forget about the Barca game because we still have difficult ones to play before then. We must remain calm.'

Racing's impressive season under coach Marcelino has seen them reach the King's Cup semi-final, where they lost to Getafe, and fifth place in the table, where they are only a point off Atletico Madrid and a place in the Champions League.

Barcelona's pursuit of Real has faltered with only one win from their last seven games and they have few chances left to make up the lost ground.

During the week, coach Frank Rijkaard organised an away-day training in the countryside for the squad, including the injured Ronaldinho, in a bid to boost morale for their final run in.

The Champions League semi-finalists have a city derby at home to Espanyol on Saturday which may not be as tough as previous encounters with Ernesto Valverde's side in freefall.

Although eighth and within reach of the European places, Espanyol have lost their last four matches without scoring a goal.

Villarreal are a point back in third and play relegation-threatened Valladolid at the Madrigal on Sunday.

Atletico Madrid, who host Real Betis on Saturday, lead the race for the fourth Champions League place but after drawing last weekend cannot afford to drop more points with Racing and Sevilla breathing down their necks.

Sevilla are three points behind Javier Aguirre's side in sixth, and are at home to Almeria on Sunday.

At the foot of the table, Levante and Real Murcia are fighting losing battles to avoid the drop, and Real Zaragoza are the only one of the bottom three who still have their destiny in their own hands.

Manolo Villanova's side are three points short of 17th-placed Recreativo Huleva, who they host on Sunday in a classic 'six-pointer'.

'It will be an intense game because of what is at stake, but it is more of a final for them than it is for us,' Recre coach Manolo Zambrano said.