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08 Mar 2012 12:18
The world’s two richest clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, take up their lonely duel for the title against sides battling for financial as well as La Liga survival this weekend.
Jose Mourinho is closing in on Real’s first league title in four years as they travel to face Real Betis on Saturday (9pm GMT) with a 10-point lead over Barca and 13 games left to play.
The European and Spanish champions journey to play Racing Santander on Sunday (5pm) with Pep Guardiola’s hopes of a fourth consecutive league title looking ever more remote.
As rumours ripple through the media of multi-million euro deals to lure away perhaps the world’s two most sought-after coaches, Mourinho and Guardiola, Betis and Racing operate in a completely different environment.
The two La Liga sides have around 214 years of history between them and share more than just a mainly green strip.
They are both in administration with a combined debt of around &euro100-million and have both suffered from institutional instability caused by recent disputed changes in ownership.
Betis finished fourth in La Liga in 2005 and played in the Champions League the following season when they beat Chelsea in the group stage, but suffered relegation in 2009.
Under Pepe Mel they have played some eye-catching attacking football on their return to the top-flight but lie 12th, six points above the relegation places.
Real have only dropped points in three of 25 matches so far and arrive after a run of nine consecutive away wins.
La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo has 30 goals which is more than Betis have managed between them all season (29).
“There are very few who know how to stop this Madrid side,” Betis defender Antonio Amaya told the club’s radio station.
“It’s a team from another league, but we aren’t scared. In our stadium with our fans we’ll give them the odd fright.”
Racing sacked their second coach of the season on Wednesday, Juan Jose Gonzalez following Hector Cuper out of the door, without a full-time replacement being named.
They shape up to host Barcelona three points from safety in 18th place and without a win in seven outings.
Barca have Lionel Messi back from suspension, the three-time World Player of the Year has scored 28 goals, seven more then the entire Racing squad all season.
The Argentine struck an incredible five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on Wednesday and is likely to face Racing reserve keeper Mario Fernandez with Tono suspended.
“I’ve never had the chance to play a team as important as Barca,” Fernandez told reporters.
“You can surprise Barca, even though they compete in a different league, and they have already dropped a number of points away from home.
All we can do is go out and give our all.”
Guardiola’s side have dropped 16 of their 18 points so far away from the Nou Camp this season.—Reuters
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