Madrid – Atletico Madrid take on derby rivals Real Madrid this weekend aiming to pile up the pressure on under-fire coach Jose Mourinho whose team already trail leaders Barcelona by 11 points.
It is the first time in almost 14 years that Atletico take on their illustrious neighbours with more points in La Liga – they are second with an eight-point lead over a stuttering Real who were beaten once again last weekend by Real Betis.
Despite winning the league last season Mourinho is coming under fire from a demanding Madrid media who are speculating whether he will be still at the helm next summer.
The Portuguese flatly denies he is feeling the strain.
“I have perfect health and I am working as I have done for many years. My relationship with the players and the club is like it has always been,” he said.
“This is not a courtroom but a press conference. I am just an employee of the club and it is they who decide if they are happy with what they have but I have a very, very, very good relationship with the president and the board.”
He also had the backing of captain Iker Casillas who played down whistles that have been heard recently at the Bernabeu for the coach.
“Only a few months ago the shouts were applause and praise that we had won the league but in football memories are very short.
“‘Mou’ led the team to the title with a record number of points and goals. We should remember the good moments and look to continue the project,” Casillas said.
Atletico’s fine start to the campaign is partly due to the form of Radamel Falcao who has hit 14 goals in 13 games and he is now geared up for the derby.
“I don’t feel as much pressure as motivation. We play a great side and it will be a high-tempo match but we will go out looking to win,” he said.
Barcelona take on Athletic Bilbao aiming to maintain their prolific start which has seen them only drop two points so far in the Clasico against Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi has hit 19 goals in the league and is only three away now from former-Germany striker Gerd Muller’s record of 85 in a calendar year.
“Messi is the best player in the world but there are other footballers with great qualities like Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Iniesta who are not far behind,” said midfielder Thiago Alcantara.
Malaga responded to a dip in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Valencia last weekend and now play Getafe while Real Betis who are level with them on 22 points are away at Deportivo la Coruna.
At the other end of the table Javier Aguirre is preparing for his first league game at the helm of Espanyol against Granada after Mauricio Pochettino was sacked following just two wins all season. Above them Osasuna take on Rayo Vallecano.
Levante look to respond to their 4-0 defeat by Barcelona away to Celta Vigo and Valencia hope to maintain their strong home record against Real Sociedad.
Elsewhere, Mallorca play Zaragoza and Sevilla entertain Valladolid.
Friday: Osasuna v Rayo Vallecano (10pm)
Saturday: Getafe v Malaga (5pm), Valencia v Real Sociedad (7pm), Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao (9pm), Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid (11pm)
Sunday: Granada v Espanyol (1pm), Deportivo la Coruna v Real Betis (4pm), Celta Vigo v Levante (8pm), Mallorca v Zaragoza (10pm)
Monday: Sevilla v Valladolid (10.30pm) – Sapa-AFP