Judging by the Primera Liga table, tonight's stand-out game is second-placed Real Madrid against Mallorca, this season's surprise package who are unexpectedly riding high in fourth. It is a shock because the Mallorca side were virtually assembled from scratch at the start of the season against a backdrop of financial uncertainty. Both sides have won every home game, but with Real playing at home and Mallorca having won just once away all season, the battle is less evenly matched than first appears.
Manuel Pellegrini's side have scored 10 goals in their last two games at the Bernabeu, with Mallorca coach Gregorio Manzano among their admirers. "Madrid have the capacity to break Barça's hegemony," he said. "Every time I see them play, they are a better team, with more power and desire." Manzano's view belies his reputation as a specialist for leading clubs to victory in the Bernabéu. His Real Valladolid side won there in 2000, but his crowning glory was a 5-1 win during his first spell coaching Mallorca in 2003.
There is a realism about Manzano's comments as Madrid are playing very well, with Cristiano Ronaldo in form and saying: "People are now talking about my goals rather than what I do at night." Leaders Barca play at lowly Tenerife tonight, the Canary Islands team having won just one of their last eight games and have the league's worst away record. Barca have started the year with a 1-1 home draw against Villarreal and a cup defeat against Sevilla. Some are suggesting cracks in their armour but Barca fans are much more optimistic. Their club shop registered its busiest period over Christmas, with 100,000 shoppers, and more than 6,000 fans watched the team train on Thursday.