Canales out to impress summer suitors Real

MADRID - Racing Santander's promising teenage midfielder Sergio Canales has a chance to impress Real Madrid, who will be his paymasters from next season, when the La Liga leaders visit the Cantabrians' Sardinero stadium on Sunday.

The 19-year-old caught Real's eye in Racing's 1-0 defeat at the Bernabeu in November, in which he had an effort wrongly ruled out for offside, and agreed a six-year contract in February that will take him to the Spanish capital in July.

Some Racing fans were annoyed when he subsequently donned a Real shirt for a newspaper interview but club captain and former Real player Pedro Munitis is sure Canales will give his all in Santander on Sunday.

"I am certain he'll put 200 percent into the clash and he'll bust a gut for Racing as he does in all the matches he plays," Munitis told a news conference.

"Nobody should be upset if he scores and celebrates the goal because Racing is still his team."

Real have netted 39 times on an 11-match winning run and are top on goal difference above champions Barcelona.

The arch rivals are level on 74 points from 29 out of 38 matches and Barca can go three clear with a win at home to sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Real host Barca for the potentially decisive second "Clasico" of the campaign on April 10, after which they will be separated by head-to-head record instead of goal difference if they are still tied on points.

Barca currently have the advantage thanks to their 1-0 win at the Nou Camp in November.

SIGNIFICANT ABSENTEES

Real coach Manuel Pellegrini will be without the suspended Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos for the Racing game but may have Karim Benzema and Lassana Diarra back after the France internationals returned to full training on Thursday.

Injured Brazil playmaker Kaka was still confined to the gym, along with defender Ezequiel Garay and midfielders Guti and Royston Drenthe, Real said on their website on Thursday.

Athletic are one of only six teams to avoid defeat to Pep Guardiola's side this season thanks to November's 1-1 draw in Bilbao and visit the Catalan capital ahead of Barca's Champions League quarter-final second-leg against Arsenal on Tuesday.

Defender Daniel Alves said after last weekend's 1-0 win in Mallorca he had deliberately got himself booked so he would be suspended for the Athletic match and not the Real game and Guardiola is also without injured midfielder Andres Iniesta.

"Barcelona have two very significant absentees in Alves and Iniesta but you can't compare their bench with other teams," Athletic striker Gaizka Toquero told a news conference.

The Basque club are fighting for one of four spots in next season's Champions League with clubs including third-placed Valencia, Real Mallorca (fourth), Sevilla (fifth) and Deportivo Coruna (seventh).

Valencia, who host Osasuna on Sunday, are a massive 21 points behind the top two on 53, with Mallorca on 47, Sevilla and Athletic on 45 and Depor on 42.

Mallorca play at in-form Almeria on Sunday, Sevilla host relegation-threatened Tenerife on Saturday and Depor play at Atletico Madrid in Sunday's late kick-off.

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