Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Top two enter battle for supremacy

AFP , MADRID

The fixtures computer has contrived to make today's meeting between Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna a fight for the leadership of the Spanish first division, and perhaps the title itself.

Valencia, champions two seasons ago, have 19 points from an unbeaten seven games, while Deportivo are just one point behind, having won six of their outings.

"Along with Real Madrid, these are the best teams this season. There is still a long way to go but I have a feeling that the championship race is going to boil down to these three teams," commented Valencia's Vicente Rodriguez on Thursday.

"Deportivo's Riazor stadium is a difficult place to get a result but we are going there with every intention of getting three points," added the Spanish international midfielder, perhaps remembering that Valencia won there 2-1 last season.

Vicente will be doubly happy if Valencia consolidate their lead as he will celebrate his 100th game in the top flight of Spanish football today.

Valencia coach Rafa Benitez was keeping his cards close to his chest on Thursday but the training session indicated there might be two changes from the side that thrashed Espanyol 4-0 tomorrow.

Brazilian striker Ricardo Oliveira is likely to start in place of a rested Mista Ferrer while midfielder David Albelda is expected to return after suspension, which could mean that Carlos Marchena would move back to his natural position in the defense and David Navarro will be back on the bench.

Deportivo were left rather battered and bruised after their 1-0 win over Monaco in the Champions League on Tuesday with Mauro Silva, Nourredine Naybet and Lionel Scaloni all facing late fitness tests.

Coach Javier Irureta also has to decide whether to persevere with Walter Pandiani as the main target man or opt to start with Diego Tristan, after he scored the only goal of the game against the French.

Real Madrid will be out to keep up the pressure on the top two with a good win over Racing Santander today.

The reigning Spanish champions are back in third with 16 points, although Racing are only two places further back in fifth place and the perennial battlers against relegation are having their best run of form for many years.

Nevertheless, Racing have only won four times in 35 visits to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium and went down 4-1 last season, with goals from Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Javier Portillo and Jose Maria `Guti' Gutierrez.

All four are likely to play a part again with Guti coming into the midfield in place of the injured England captain David Beckham and Portillo relieving Ronaldo, who looked tired at times during Wednesday's 1-0 win over Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League, either at the outset or during the game.

"It will probably be the toughest three points we will be trying to win all season," admitted Racing coach Luis Alcaraz on Thursday.

"We are conscious of the difficulties but it is better than going there blind and at least Real don't have any secrets. And so far we have not lost and only conceded one goal away from home," added Alcaraz, desperately trying to sound optimistic in the face of the task ahead.

Somebody else trying to be optimistic was Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, after a trying week in which his own critics were growing after the Catalans poor start, which has sees them presently in 11th place, and increasing speculation about the future of his compatriot Patrick Kluivert.

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