Di Stefano gives Mourinho thumbs-up

MADRID - Brief news from La Liga ahead of this weekend's matches:

Jose Mourinho won support from honorary Real Madrid president Alfredo Di Stefano after their King's Cup triumph over Barcelona, days after the club's most famous former player wrote a scathing article about Madrid's style of play.

"The bravery and courage, Madrid's appetite for victory doesn't happen with the flick of a switch," the 84-year-old wrote in sports daily Marca.

"It was the result of the work headed up by Mourinho since he arrived. I hope he stays for many more years. The white warriors devoured Barcelona."

Second-placed Real trail leaders Barcelona by eight points with six matches left to play and return to the final venue, the Mestalla, to play third-placed Valencia on Saturday.

Wednesday's cup final, which Real won 1-0, went to extra-time, so players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Pepe, are likely to be rested.

Mourinho will be focusing his preparations on next week's Champions League semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu, the third of the four clashes with Barca in 18 days.

Valencia striker Roberto Soldado, a former Real player, has scored seven goals in his last three matches and said his side were keen to test Real's concentration.

"Real arrive after an important victory, much like Villarreal did after having beaten Twente 5-1 in the Europa League (two weeks ago) and we beat them," Soldado told reporters.

"It's up to us, to our enthusiasm and our intensity."

Like Real, Barca will look to rotate their squad when relegation-threatened Osasuna visit the Nou Camp on Saturday. The Navarrans stunned Real earlier in the campaign.

Coach Pep Guardiola is without Eric Abidal, Adriano Correia and Bojan Krkic due to injury, while captain Carles Puyol is a doubt as he recovers from a muscle strain.

Barca sports director Andoni Zubizarreta warned his side to put the cup final defeat behind them quickly.

"We need to recover and reorganise ourselves and to be fully alert against Osasuna," he told reporters.

"Now, more than ever, we need to focus on one game at a time and that makes La Liga the principal objective."

Europa League semi-finalists Villarreal can move a step closer to a Champions League qualifying place next season with victory away to sixth-placed Sevilla on Sunday.

"Sevilla have very little hope of catching us," midfielder Borja Valero told reporters. "We'll go to win because if we achieve that we have practically assured ourselves of fourth place."

Fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao head into the Basque derby at home to Real Sociedad on Saturday without the suspended Xabi Castillo, Gorka Iraizoz and Iker Muniain.

Seventh-placed Atletico Madrid have striker Diego Forlan fit again, but he has to compete for a place with Diego Costa who has performed well in his absence, when Levante visit on Sunday.

Promoted Levante have the third-best record in La Liga for the second half of the season, behind Real and Barca, are unbeaten in eight games, and could force their way into the tussle for the European places with a victory at the Calderon.


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