Judging by the Primera Liga table and the stature of their opponents, Barcelona and Real Madrid should both win easily tonight. The Catalans host the 12th-placed Malaga, a team they beat 2-0 away in September. That was when the Andalusians were halfway through a dire run during which they failed to register a win in 13 matches.
By December, Malaga were marooned in 19th with just one win to their name, an opening day victory at that. Since then, they have won five, drawn three and lost just once - away to Real Madrid, the only team above them in February's form table. Not even Madrid can match Malaga's defence though, the major reason for their recovery after conceding just one goal in the last four matches. With 10 wins and a draw from their 11 home games so far, Barca remain clear favourites to beat Malaga, but their midfielder, Yaya Toure, spoke for the team when he described the pressures they are under after an impossible-to-beat 2009.
"Everybody thinks we're unbeatable, but that's not true," said Toure. "It's much harder after winning six titles. We can't make any mistakes any more. We are human and teams are fired up when they play us. "There are so many games, and after what happened last year, it's not easy. There are difficult times in sport, and this is one of them. We don't just have to think about beating teams like Malaga, who will be difficult because they are a good team. "It's not only about victory, we are expected to be at one hundred per cent and play easy, delicate football - that's what people expect from us. However, both the league and Champions League are going to be very hard this time round."
Dani Alves should be back for Barca after missing the last three games through injury. The attacking right back is crucial to Barca, with Toure describing him as "a machine that is always ready to run." Madrid are two points behind Barca and can go above the Catalans as they kick off earlier tonight against Tenerife. The Canary Islanders have found life hard going since being promoted last season and sit second from bottom, with the worst away record in the league and just one win from their last 10 games. They have nevertheless proved more stubborn at home, winning a respectable five times, and Madrid have historically fared poorly at Tenerife. In the 1990s, Madrid twice lost the league title at Tenerife on the final day of the season - effectively handing the title to Barcelona both times.
In 1992, Madrid let a 2-0 half-time lead slip and were beaten 3-2. Always ripe for a conspiracy theory, Spain's best-selling sports paper, Marca, accused the Galician referee of being 'bent' on their front page the following day. The next season, Madrid incredibly lost the league at Tenerife again on the final day of the season, going down 2-0 as their players wilted in the heat and the open hostility from the islanders towards the perceived aristocrats from the capital. "It will be difficult, but it's not impossible to beat Real Madrid," the Tenerife midfielder, Mikel Alonso, said of today's game.
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Tenerife v Real Madrid, 11pm, Aljazeera Sport +2 Barcelona v Malaga, 1am Sunday, Aljazeera Sport +2