La Liga preview: Stern test for Real Madrid

Real Madrid face two La Liga battles in four days in their attempt to claw back their 10-point deficit to leaders Barcelona.

Jose Mourinho’s side take on second-bottom Malaga at the Bernabeu on Thursday before travelling to Racing Santander’s Campos de Sport de El Sardinero on Sunday to meet Marcelino’s men.

Malaga will need to recover quickly from their match with the Spanish powerhouse when they host relegation rivals Osasuna on Sunday.

In the other match on Thursday, bottom side Almeria host Racing Santander, with the cellar dwellers able to climb out of last place with a victory.

On Saturday, Barcelona take on Real Zaragoza at Camp Nou, following Mallorca’s clash with third-placed Valencia at Iberostar Estadi.

Atletico Madrid have a tough task ahead to record their fourth consecutive game unbeaten when they host fourth placed Villarreal.

On Sunday, Athletic Bilbao will welcome Sevilla to Estadio San Mames in what shapes to be a battle for a place in European competition next season.

The Basque club sit in sixth place but have lost their past four league encounters, while Sevilla are in seventh, level on points with their Sunday opponents but with an inferior goal difference by one.

Bilbao’s form line of four losses can be misleading, given they equalised against champions Barcelona at the Camp Nou before conceding late and led for the most part against Valencia before conceding twice in the latter stages.

They also led away to Real Zaragoza on Tuesday before conceding twice early in the second half to drop more points.

Striker Fernando Llorente has scored four goals in Bilbao’s past seven league clashes, and will be pivotal for their push for Europe.

Elsewhere on Sunday, relegation-placed Sporting Gijon take on 11th side Getafe, Hercules and Almeria do battle and Levante host fifth-placed Espanyol, who have lost four of their past five in the league.