Published February 15, 2013
| Sports Network
Madrid, Spain – Rayo Vallecano will be hoping to continue its fine run of form on Sunday when it heads to the Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid.
Manager Paco Jemez has guided his team to a sublime run of results that has seen Rayo pick up 18 points over its last eight league contests.
Los Vallecanos will fancy their chances of getting a positive result at the Bernabeu as they typically provide a tough test for their city rival.
Real claimed a 2-0 win at Rayo earlier in the season behind goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the only difference between the two sides at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas late last term was a brilliant back-heel goal from the Portuguese superstar.
It will be interesting to see how Real Madrid is able to perform following its 1-1 home draw with Manchester United on Wednesday.
Los Merengues could prove to be quite taxed, mentally and physically, after such a high-profile fixture. Real came through the match at full strength and all players, apart from the previously-injured Iker Casillas, trained on Friday, but it is unclear as to how Jose Mourinho will assemble his starting lineup.
The league title has been all but conceded to Barcelona, which sets the pace in La Liga with 62 points from 23 games. Real and Rayo are separated by just nine points in the table as Mourinho's men maintain third place on 46 points, three spots above Jemez's Rayo.
With that in mind, fielding a weaker side on Sunday is within the realm of possibilities as Real has one eye set on the European stage.
Even still, Real Madrid would love to get to the return leg at Old Trafford with a head of steam, and a strong performance against Rayo on Sunday may be the perfect spark.
With Rayo coming into the matchup in good stead and Real exerting a great deal of focus and energy in its midweek Champions League tie, the playing field certainly looks to be a bit more level heading into Sunday's affair.
Real potentially could make up some ground on second-place Atletico Madrid should the Rojiblancos fail to take maximum points from its trip to the Jose Zorrilla to face Valladolid. Atletico is stuttering at the moment, losing two of its last three in La Liga action and getting stunned in a 2-0 home loss to Rubin Kazan in Europa League action on Thursday.
Also on Sunday, fifth-place Valencia will hope to inch closer to a European spot with a positive result against lowly Mallorca at the Mestalla, Real Sociedad goes for its third straight league win when it hosts Levante at the Anoeta and Real Betis hopes to snap its four-game winless run in La Liga play when it heads to the Estadi Cornella-El Prat to take on Espanyol.
Granada's chances of winning its third league match in a row are likely to be quite low given the fact that the club is slated to take on Barcelona. The two sides will meet at Los Carmenes on Saturday.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Malaga attempts to maintain its fourth-place position when it hosts Athletic Bilbao at La Rosaleda, Osasuna and Real Zaragoza try to pull further away from the relegation zone when they square off at El Sadar and Getafe takes on lowly Celta Vigo at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.
In Friday's lone La Liga fixture, Sevilla handed Deportivo a fifth successive league loss by collecting a 3-1 win at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan behind a brace from Gary Medel.