Madrid Starts Final Stretch With Tough Test at Osasuna

By webadmin on 06:58 pm Mar 30, 2012
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Joseph Wilson

Barcelona. Real Madrid’s campaign for its first Spanish league title in four seasons faces a tough test at Osasuna today, while second-place Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao in a preview of the Copa del Rey final.

After seeing its once commanding lead over Barcelona slashed from 10 points to six, Madrid has since rediscovered its form with a 5-1 rout of Real Sociedad and a 3-0 win at Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia in the Champions League.

With nine games to play, Madrid begins its challenging final stretch with a visit to one of the league’s quiet surprises.

Sixth-place Osasuna is undefeated in its last six matches and has only lost twice in 15 home games this season at the raucous Reyno de Navarra Stadium, where Barcelona stumbled to a 3-2 defeat last month.

Osasuna’s direct, physical style and Madrid’s feared counterattack should make for an entertaining clash in Pamplona.

“We fully believe in our possibilities,” Osasuna defender Miguel Flano said. “We are an intense team that fights for each and every ball and that is the only way that we can match up with their talent.”

After slipping to consecutive 1-1 draws last week, Madrid imposed a gag rule on its players and staff that was widely criticized in the Spanish media.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and his players finally spoke to the press for the game at Apoel, and it appears they will do so again for the game at Osasuna.

“I think this weekend we will speak in Pamplona. That is what we have decided for now,” said Kaka, who came off the bench to spark Madrid’s attack in Cyprus.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Bilbao team recently won plenty of plaudits when it knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League. But just when a top-four finish in Spain looked like a real possibility, Bilbao has lost three and drawn one to slide into 11th place.

“At this stage of the season everyone wants to win to achieve their goals, but right now we have to buckle down and give it our all,” Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz said.

For Bilbao to have a chance, Iraizoz will have to stop Barcelona forward Lionel Messi. Both Messi and Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo have scored 35 times in league play this season. The Portugal forward holds the league record of 40 goals from last season.

Barcelona will also play Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on May 25 in Madrid.

Associated Press