MADRID - Villarreal are in danger of losing touch with the Primera Liga leaders if they do not win their local derby at Valencia on Saturday. Manuel Pellegrini's side have dropped off the pace with consecutive defeats to rivals Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, and are four points behind second-placed Valencia in seventh. They have only managed one goal in their last four outings and striker Nihat Kahveci admitted this had been one of their key failings recently. "At present, we are not taking our chances and while it isn't the only problem, scoring will make it much easier to get back to winning ways," the Turkey international said. "It's a match that is worth more than three points. For me it is worth six ... if we want to close the gap on the best sides. We have done well there in recent years." Villarreal have won their last three league meetings with Valencia, including back-to-back wins at the Mestalla, but Unai Emery's side are a different proposition from last year's team. They hung on for a 1-1 draw in the King's Cup last-16 first leg away to Racing Santander on Wednesday and impressively dismissed Atletico Madrid 3-1 at home last weekend, with the fit-again David Silva in good form. Leaders Barcelona continue to set the pace with an 11-point lead at the top of the standings, and are favourites to maintain their advantage when they visit bottom club Osasuna on Sunday. Pep Guardiola's side have won 14 of their last 15 league matches and comfortably beat Atletico 3-1 away in the Cup during the week, despite being without a number of first-team regulars. Osasuna have only won two games all season but are unbeaten in their last four home matches at the compact and inhospitable Reyno de Navarra. Champions Real Madrid, who are third, appear to be over their poor run of form after consecutive wins against direct rivals Valencia and Villarreal. With players returning to fitness and two new signings available to coach Juande Ramos, they should prove too strong for second-bottom Mallorca on Sunday. Hosts Mallorca are without a win in seven. Atletico coach Javier Aguirre and Sevilla boss Manolo Jimenez, whose teams are both in the top five, could do with wins this weekend to stave off recent criticism from fans for their respective campaigns. Atletico host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday and Sevilla visit Deportivo on Saturday, having beaten them 2-1 at home in the Cup during the week.
8 January 2009
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