All eyes will also be on the performance of the men in the middle


MADRID: Champions League contenders Real Madrid and Real Betis will be missing key players as they bid to reverse their slumping Spanish League form today. 

Sixth-placed Real will still be without the injured trio of Ronaldo, Julio Baptista and Zinedine Zidane while England captain David Beckham is also doubtful after his back problem flared up during Real's 3-1 loss at Deportivo Coruna on Wednesday. 

“We aren't having a crisis. The only crisis at the moment is bird flu,” joked Real Madrid's Spanish international Ivan Helguera. 

Betis will be without Joaquin Sanchez and Melli Rivas who were sent off during their 3-2 home loss to Villarreal on Wednesday. 

NO WAY OUT: Getafe’s Daniel Gonzalez Guiza (centre) is tackled by Real Sociedad’s Mikel Alonso (left) and Igor Jauregi in aPrimera Liga match at the Anoeta Stadium on Thursday. Sociedad won 3-0. – REUTERSpic

To add injury to insult, with both players getting their marching orders for allegedly abusing the referee on Wednesday, Betis' deadball specialist Asscuncao also suffered a thigh injury and will miss today's match. 

The two Reals will be looking enviously at surprise league leaders Osasuna, who play host to Espanyol tomorrow, although the Pamplona-based side still worried about the bottom of the table rather than the top. 

“If we beat Espanyol then we'll have 21 points and that will give us half the amount that we need to ensure we stay up,” said Raul Garcia, one of Osasuna's goalscorers in their 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday. 

The vanquished Basques now lie at the foot of the Spanish First Division and face a crunch match at home to Celta Vigo. 

Athletic are one of three teams – Barcelona and Real Madrid being the others – who have been ever-present in the top flight of Spanish football since the league was formed in 1928. 

However, that streak could come to an end if their form continues to fail. 

“I don't know if changing the coach would help,” said Athletic striker Francisco Yeste although Jose Luis Mendilibar knows he is likely to be shown the door if his team lose to Celta. 

Second-placed Getafe travel to Deportivo tomorrow hoping to do better than their near-neighbours Real Madrid as well as put Thursday's emphatic 3-0 defeat by Real Sociedad behind them. 

Reigning champions Barcelona play host to Real Sociedad, having gone unbeaten in their last five league games to climb steadily up to third. 

It will not be just the players being watched this weekend but also the men in the middle. 

This season, by common consent, has been one of the worst in recent memory for refereeing mistakes, mainly concerning penalties being given in error. 

The issue stayed to the fore this week with both Barcelona and Villarreal benefiting from questionable decisions, which gave them penalties at crucial moments in their midweek matches. 

“Referees make mistakes but that’s part of the game,” said Barcelona’s Brazilian defender Edmilson, admitting that the Catalans had been lucky in their 2-0 win over Malaga in midweek. 

However, with nine Spanish First Division referees on the FIFA register of officials, the questions being asked about the competence of Spanish referees could have repercussions beyond Spain’s borders. – AFP  

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