Previews: Barca bid to get back on winning track

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

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes has shrugged off criticism of his recent performances, but recognised the need for a win away to Atletico Madrid on Sunday to prevent a further erosion of their lead at the top.

"We aren't as bad as people have made out...we are still competing in three competitions," Valdes said. "The league is long and the fans have to be calm. They have to understand we'll do all we can to win."

Barca have dropped five points in their last two league outings as Real Madrid have closed to within seven points on the back of a nine-match winning streak.

Barca have appealed over last week's red card for midfielder Seydou Keita who is currently suspended for Sunday's game. Gerard Pique is also suspended while Andres Iniesta is injured.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar, who is ineligible to play in the Champions League, is likely to return to Real Madrid's starting line up when they visit Espanyol on Saturday.

The Dutch striker has scored three times in the last two league matches. Guti could step in in midfield with Fernando Gago suffering with an ankle problem.

Third-placed Sevilla go north to play Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Saturday with the King's Cup semi-final second leg between the two sides due there next week. Sevilla won the first leg 2-1.

"It's odd to play twice in a five days but if we win on Saturday it will give us a slight psychological edge for Wednesday," Athletic's Javi Martinez said.

Villarreal will need to win away from home for the first time in the league since late November if they want to hang on to fourth place and the last Champions League qualification slot.

On Sunday, they travel to face Real Betis who were trounced 6-1 by Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last weekend.

Fifth-placed Valencia will be looking to get over their surprise UEFA Cup exit to Dynamo Kiev when Real Valladolid visit the Mestalla on Sunday.

The cash-strapped club will be without leading scorer David Villa who is suspended. They are seeking to stop a slide which has seen them win once in seven outings in all competitions.

Bottom club Numancia have lost six on the trot and will be without new coach Pacheta when they host Deportivo Coruna on Sunday. He misses his home debut after being sent off in his first game away to Osasuna last weekend.

Deportivo are looking to recover from their UEFA Cup exit on Thursday when they were humbled 6-1 on aggregate by AaB Aalborg.