Buoyant Real Madrid CF will look to break Sevilla FC's lengthy unbeaten home run when second plays third in this weekend's standout Primera División fixture.
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Last weekend's 2-1 away defeat by fellow UEFA Cup contenders RCD Espanyol was a missed opportunity for Juande Ramos's side to top the table, and they can ill afford to lose a first home game since going down 1-0 against CA Osasuna on 5 February when second-placed Madrid visit the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.
With Ivica Dragutinović out with a bruised right knee, question marks still hang over forward Jesús Navas (knee) as well as defenders Aitor Ocio and Julien Escudé (back). Crucially, their absence would leave Ramos with just one fit centre-back, Javi Navarro. "I'm a bit worried because I don't know if those players will be fit, so we have problems in defence," admitted the coach. "I will have to find an emergency solution - either we fit another player into that position or we pick someone from the reserves."
Pablo Gallardo, Lolo Ortiz and Manuel Redondo are all eager to help the senior side against Madrid, but Ramos remains worried. "Madrid win games playing badly, and when they start playing well they can win by four or five," he said. "It's harder to win playing well than badly but each team has its own style." With several top players rested for this week's 2-2 UEFA Champions League draw at FC Dynamo Kyiv, Madrid travel to Seville in good shape. Two goals for Ronaldo - his first in European competition for over two years - have given coach Fabio Capello food for thought.
"If the coach needs me, I'm available," said the 30-year-old Brazilian, who has started just one Primera Divisón match and made three substitute appearances this term. "I'm keen to help the team, to play an important part, to score goals and bring the points home." Italy defender and new European Footballer of the Year, Fabio Cannavaro, is an injury concern for Capello after spraining his ankle in training but Cicinho is the only certain absentee as he continues treatment on a knee injury. The Dynamo result stretched Madrid's unbeaten sequence to seven games in all competitions since a 5-1 Copa del Rey thrashing of Écija Balompié on 9 November. A win for either side this weekend could take the victors top; a draw would give leaders FC Barcelona something to celebrate.