Time to focus on battle for Champions League places

FootballMadrid - It is time to focus on the battle for the Spanish Champions League places, now that Real Madrid are practically champions.

Real are well set up for their 31st Liga title: nine points ahead of Barcelona and 10 ahead of third-placed Villarreal.

Therefore, their game away to Racing Santander on Sunday is even more important for the hosts than for Real.

Santander, who have never played in Europe, are currently fifth, just one point behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

"We're really looking forward to Sunday's match," said veteran Santander striker Pedro Munitis, who had a hard time when at Real from 2000 to 2002.

Santander are two points above sixth-placed Sevilla, who on Saturday are at home to seventh-placed surprise package Almeria.

The 33rd round of matches kicks off on Saturday with the Catalan derby between Barcelona and Espanyol.

Barca will probably have their minds more on Wednesday's Champions League semi-final against Manchester United - and on the imminent departure of Ronaldinho to Milan.

Ronaldinho will probably not play again for Barca - he is out for six weeks with a torn muscle - though many Camp Nou fans would like to say goodbye to him in a dignified fashion.

Barca coach Frank Rijkaard will, however, be able to use fit-again forwards Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Bojan Krkic.

Espanyol have fallen down to eight in recent weeks and are in terrible form.

Later on Saturday, Atletico Madrid are at home to Betis.

Saturday's other game is a fascinating relegation clash between Zaragoza and Recreativo Huelva.

In spite of their talented squad, Zaragoza are third from bottom, one place and three points below Huelva.

On Wednesday afternoon Zaragoza's star striker Diego Milito twisted his right ankle in training, and will be out for around two weeks.

Sunday's other games, in addition to the Santander-Real Madrid clash, are as follows: Villarreal-Valladolid, Osasuna-Deportivo Coruna, Murcia-Mallorca, Levante-Getafe and Athletic Bilbao-Valencia.

On the Levante bench will be caretaker coach Jose Angel Moreno, because on Wednesday Giovanni De Biasi abandoned the sinking ship to return to Torino.

Levante's crosstown rivals Valencia, in contrast, will go to Bilbao after three days of celebrations following Wednesday's 3-1 cup final defeat of hapless Getafe. (dpa)