x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Real's stiff test against Valencia

Madrid will have to do without Kaka tonight as they face third-placed Valencia in a match vital at the top of the table.

Real Madrid must continue to do without Kaka tonight as they face third-placed Valencia in a match that is vital for the respective hopes of both teams at the top of the table. Kaka, the 2007 World Player of the Year, has been absent with a thigh problem since the second leg of Real's Champions League last-16 tie with Lyon on March 10. In addition to the ?65 million (Dh322m) summer signing from AC Milan, Manuel Pellegrini, the coach, is also missing Raul, his captain, Royston Drenthe, Christoph Metzelder and Pepe, the long-term absentee who, according to the latest medical report, is on course in his comeback from a serious knee injury he suffered in a meeting with Valencia earlier this season.

Real's win over Almeria on Thursday kept them within three points of Barcelona, the league leaders, with six games left before the weekend games. When asked by reporters if he was going to watch last night's Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barca, Pellegrini said: "I don't know if I'll see it, but that's not the most important thing, the important thing is what we do and that we finish the season in the same manner as we have been doing. We have six difficult opponents left and the one that's next is always the one that concerns you the most. Valencia have a very good squad. Hopefully we have the weapons to overcome them."

Valencia, seven points clear of fourth-placed Mallorca, are firm favourites to claim a top-four finish and a Champions League spot, but they could face a nervy few weeks if they do not improve their away form having failed to win on their travels in their last 11 competitive games. Carlos Marchena, the Valencia centre-back, said: "If we don't win, then we need to try to draw to get closer to our objective."

* PA Sport Real v Valencia, 11pm, Aljazeera Sport + 3