RC Celta de Vigo may be four places behind Real Madrid CF in the Primera División table, but victory over Madrid at the Balaídos stadium on Saturday would move the Galicians to within a point of their title rivals.
Celta are in the middle of a poor run of form, having lost two and drawn two of their last four league matches, but can glean confidence from the knowledge that Madrid have won only once in Vigo in the last 16 years. The visitors will undoubtedly be on a high after becoming the first club to book their place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-1 victory over FC Porto on Wednesday night. What makes Madrid's achievement all the more impressive is that they managed the victory with several key players missing from their side.
‘Broken the routine’
Madrid's league form has given their travelling fans something to worry about, however. The Merengues have taken only two wins from their last seven league matches and Celta will be hopeful of emulating the likes of Athletic Club Bilbao, Real Valladolid and RCD Espanyol in upsetting the reigning champions. Following the victory in Porto, Madrid coach Vincente del Bosque said: "At last we have broken the routine of losing away from home. I hope this win serves us well in the league."
Key players return
Del Bosque is expected to recall Zinedine Zidane, Raúl González and Roberto Carlos to the starting lineup after resting the trio for the Porto match, while in-form striker Fernando Morientes will play if he recovers from an injured toe. Club captain Fernando Hierro misses the match through suspension and Aitor Karanka is doubtful after failing to recover from a thigh injury suffered in Portugal. Iván Helguera has travelled with the squad despite missing training but Figo and Savio are still recovering from injury.
Santiago Solari, scorer of Madrid's first goal against Porto on Wednesday, will be hoping for a place in the team but is aware that his side have to improve their league form if they are to retain their title. "We all know we can player better than we did against Porto," Solari said. "We're capable of playing much more attractive football but sometimes the important thing is to know how to win when you're not playing well."
Striker Catanha looks certain to start the match for Celta after coach Victor Fernández watched his side finish last weekend's 4-1 defeat at the hands of third-placed Real Betis Balompié with nine men. That result followed a pair of goalless draws, against Valencia CF and Málaga CF, and a 2-0 home defeat by RC Deportivo La Coruña. Doriva and Valeri Karpin are both suspended for the match and Vágner looks likely to miss out through injury, but Aleksandr Mostovoi, sent off against Betis, and Fernando Cáceres have both been cleared to play after a disciplinary committee lifted their bans.
UEFA Cup berth
Although Celta may secretly harbour hopes of claiming their first ever Primera División title, a more realistic aim for this season is to book a UEFA Cup berth. The club's sixth-place finish last term earned them a place in this season's competition which they exited in the second round, beaten by FC Slovan Liberec.
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