Marcelo expecting stern test at Osasuna

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

Real Madrid have Angel di Maria back in the squad for Saturday's trip to Pamplona to play sixth-placed Osasuna, although the Argentina winger is not yet fit enough to play a full match, coach Jose Mourinho said on Friday.

"Obviously he can't play 90 minutes but he's in the squad," Mourinho told a news conference.

"The question is if he starts and then comes off before the end or if he stays on the bench and then plays the amount of time we think appropriate," the Portuguese added.

Di Maria, who has provided 13 assists and scored five goals in his 15 league appearances this season, was injured at the end of last year and again just after coming back in mid-February and has not played since then.

The Osasuna match will be a stern test for Real as the leaders seek to stretch their advantage over second-placed Barcelona to nine points, according to full-back Marcelo.

"It is going to be very, very tough because it's a difficult stadium to visit but we will give everything to get the three points," the Brazilian said on Real's website.

Barca lost 3-2 at Osasuna in February but have since trimmed Real's lead to six points from 10 and are chasing an eighth straight win when they host Europa League quarter-finalists Athletic Bilbao later on Saturday.

Bilbao have lost three and drawn one of their last four league matches and have slipped to 11th, putting their bid to qualify for Europe again next season in peril.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola does not believe the Bilbao players will be tired after Thursday's 4-2 Europa League win at Bundesliga side Schalke 04.

"They are used to working at the limit," Guardiola told a news conference on Friday.

"It's better to have three or four days of rest but teams that want to be there competing at the end have to play a lot of matches in quick succession," he added.

The Barca squad stayed on in Italy for an extra day after Wednesday's frustrating 0-0 Champions League quarter-final first-leg draw at AC Milan because of Thursday's general strike in Spain and arrived back in the Catalan capital on Friday.

With nine games left, Real lead on 75 points, Barca have 69 and Valencia and Malaga trail on 47 in third and fourth respectively.

David Villa is nearing the end of his recuperation after breaking his leg at the Club World Cup in December, the Barca and Spain striker said on Friday.

"I am very positive, going through the final phase now, thank God, working very hard every day since it happened," he said at a Spanish football federation (RFEF) event.

"I can see light at the end of the tunnel and I am eager to start enjoying football again from the inside," he added.

Embattled Valencia coach Unai Emery badly needs a win when his side host city neighbours Levante on Sunday after two league defeats in a row loosened the club's grip on third and they were beaten 2-1 at AZ Alkmaar in Thursday's Europa League quarter-final first leg.

"Starting on Sunday against Levante we need to feel strong and positive and turn in a determined performance," Emery, who has urged the fans to get behind the team, said after the defeat in the Netherlands.

Ambitious Qatar-owned Malaga have won five and drawn one of their last six games, snatching a point against Real at the Bernabeu with a late equaliser, and can go three points clear of Valencia with a win at home to Real Betis on Saturday.

"We are in a good position and on good form, with a squad focused on taking control of games and which has shown it can respond at the right time independently of who is selected," coach Manuel Pellegrini told a news conference.

As the race for a lucrative place in Europe hots up, fifth-placed Levante are three points behind Valencia and Malaga on 44 and a point ahead of Osasuna.

Espanyol are three further back on 40, with Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Getafe level on 39 and Bilbao on 38, a point ahead of Rayo Vallecano.

Bottom side Real Zaragoza have taken seven points from their last three matches and continue their bid to avoid the drop to the second division at fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

Racing Santander, who host Granada on Saturday, Gijon and Zaragoza are level on 25 points in the three relegation places, six behind Granada and Villarreal.


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