La Liga Previews: Barca happy to relegate Espanyol

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

Espanyol denied Barcelona the 2007 title with a last-minute equaliser at the Nou Camp and that has not been forgotten by the leaders as they prepare for Saturday's visit of city rivals now stuck in last position.

"Two years ago Espanyol caused us to lose the league title and they were delighted while celebrating their goals," Barca defender Gerard Pique told news agency EFE. "It wouldn't bother me a bit if they were relegated."

Lionel Messi will start for the home team but captain Carles Puyol remains an injury doubt.

Espanyol's talismanic captain and striker Raul Tamudo, who scored the last-minute equaliser, has just returned from a long-term injury layoff and is likely to be a substitute. His side have gone 14 league matches without a win.

"I don't think it will be any tougher to visit the Nou Camp than in other seasons. They have always been a good team," he said.

Real Madrid hope to continue their winning streak when Real Betis visit on Saturday. They have won eight on the trot, conceding one goal in the process.

Coach Juande Ramos has recalled Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Guti to the squad after injury.

Real Betis have emerged from a poor run to beat city rivals Sevilla away and end Barcelona's 10-match winning streak with a 2-2 draw in their last outing.

"We hope we can end Real's run like we did with Barcelona. Real's defence was their weak point before Ramos came but now they are rock solid at the back and concede very few goals," midfielder Arzu said.

Valencia may have to turn to their youth team goalkeeper at Deportivo Coruna on Sunday.

First-choice Renan is injured while new signing Cesar Sanchez is doubtful after twisting his knee in their 1-1 UEFA Cup draw at Dynamo Kiev in midweek.

Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero has been included in the squad to visit Sevilla on Saturday after becoming a father for the first time on Thursday. His son Benjamin was Diego Maradona's first grandson.

Strike partner Florent Sinama Pongolle is suspended.

Inconsistent Villarreal have striker Joseba Llorente back from injury at home to Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

"If we can secure victory it will give us a morale-boost for Wednesday's visit of Panathinaikos in the Champions League. The win is important if we aren't to slip off the pace in the league," he said.

New coach Jose Rojo Martin 'Pacheta' has promised changes when he takes charge of Numancia for the first time at fellow strugglers Osasuna on Sunday.

Numancia are second from bottom and on a five-match losing streak. Osasuna have climbed out of the relegation zone by taking eight points from a possible 12.