Real out to avoid goring in Pamplona

Taking on Osasuna in Pamplona can be as intimidating as the city's famous "running of the bulls" and Real Madrid will be hoping to avoid the goring Barcelona suffered there last month when they play the Navarrans on Saturday.

Real come into the match on a high after all but securing a place in the Champions League semi-finals thanks to Tuesday's 3-0 win at APOEL Nicosia but have seen their advantage over second-placed Barca in La Liga whittled down to six points from 10 in recent weeks.

One of only two teams to beat Barca in the league this season, Osasuna are sixth, well placed to secure a berth in Europe next season, and their tough-tackling, well-organised side has only lost twice at home this term, to Racing Santander and Atletico Madrid during a poor run in January.

"They [Real] have three points at stake that could decide the league title, while we will simply go out there to win," Osasuna defender Miguel Flano told a news conference on Wednesday.

"It seems to me that Madrid are on good form, just like the rest of the season," he added. "They are a solid team, who allow themselves few errors and if they are given space they are extremely dangerous."

Victory for Jose Mourinho's side would stretch their lead over Barca to nine points, at least for a few hours until the Spanish, European and world champions host 11th-placed Athletic Bilbao in Saturday's late kick-off.

The Basques, who play at Schalke 04 in a Europa League quarter-final first leg on Thursday, have lost three and drawn one of their last four La Liga games, while Barca are chasing an eighth straight win since the 3-2 reverse at Osasuna.

HEFTY OUTLAY

With nine matches left, Real have 75 points, Barca have 69 and Valencia and Malaga are tied on 47 points in the third and fourth Champions League qualification places respectively.

Qatar-owned Malaga, whose hefty outlay on players in recent seasons appears at last to be bearing fruit, host 15th-placed Real Betis on Saturday, while Valencia are at home to their city rivals Levante on Sunday.

The season's surprise packages, Levante are fifth and a win at the Mestalla would put them level on points with their much wealthier neighbours and heap more pressure on Valencia coach Unai Emery, assuming he is still in charge by then.

Emery's side have their Europa League last-eight clash at AZ Alkmaar to negotiate on Thursday and with the board demanding improvement and fans increasingly restless, a poor performance in the Netherlands may enough to prompt a change of coach.

Bottom side Real Zaragoza, who have taken seven points from their last three games, continue their bid to avoid the drop at fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

"We are ready to fight until our last drop of energy," forward Luis Garcia told a news conference on Tuesday.


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