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Thursday, January 3, 2008
La Liga: High-flying Espanyol face Villarreal

MADRID, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Primera Liga surprise package Espanyol are out to prove they can remain a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the season when they host fellow high fliers Villarreal at Montjuic on Saturday.

A 13-match unbeaten run has catapulted Ernesto Valverde's side into third spot in the table, a point behind city rivals Barcelona, and a win over Villarreal will provide them with an important boost at the start of a demanding month.

'We couldn't have had a better 2007,' said Valverde. 'We ended the year close to the top of the table and now we want to consolidate that position by getting a good result against Villarreal.

'Getting into a good position in the table isn't that difficult, but staying there is. We want people to take us seriously and that will happen if we maintain this sort of consistency.'

Spanish international strikers Luis Garcia and Raul Tamudo have scored half of their side's league goals this season and both players were on target again in Wednesday's 2-1 King's Cup win over Deportivo Coruna.

Villarreal, who are just a point adrift of Espanyol, also have plenty of firepower up front with fit-again Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi likely to accompany in-form Turkish international Nihat Kahveci in attack.

Real Madrid opened up a comfortable seven-point lead at the top of the table after their 1-0 win at Barcelona last time out and will be confident of maintaining their 100 percent record at the Bernabeu when they host Real Zaragoza on Sunday.

Zaragoza are mired in a seven-match winless streak and have only won once away from home in the league.

Barca, who have also struggled on the road with just two away wins this season, face a difficult trip to a Mallorca side on a high after their 4-0 win over Osasuna in the Cup.

Frank Rijkaard's side, who were held 2-2 by third division Alcoyano in the Cup, will be without the injured Lionel Messi while Ronaldinho is a doubt because of tendinitis in his left knee.

The weekend's other stand-out game is the Andalucian derby between Sevilla and Real Betis at the Sanchez Pzjuan on Sunday.

A four-match unbeaten streak has pushed Sevilla up to eighth in the table, but they are still only five points ahead of their city rivals, who remain in the relegation zone despite an improvement in form under new coach Paco Chaparro.




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