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Real Madrid Aim To Rebound Against Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid know they cannot dwell on their chastening Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool this week or they will run the risk of seeing their Primera Liga hopes also go up in smoke.

Madrid were thrashed 4-0 by a rampant Liverpool to complete a 5-0 aggregate defeat which saw them tumble out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the fifth successive season.

It was a humiliating experience for Madrid, who had high hopes of being crowned European champions for the 10th time, but Juande Ramos’ side know they cannot afford to lick their wounds for too long as they face a testing league trip to Athletic Bilbao this weekend.

Madrid fell six points behind leaders Barcelona after being held at home by derby rivals Atletico last weekend and another slip-up could cause irreparable damage to their hopes of winning a third successive title.

Captain Raul said:

“We still have La Liga and we must leave our pride to one side and try to win it.”

Copa del Rey finalists Athletic will be in no mood to roll over though as they look to record their first league win in six matches.

The Basque club’s Spain striker Fernando Llorente said:

“We’ve left the league to one side a little because of the cup, but I think we are focused once again on the league. We are eager to beat Madrid because you always want to win against these types of teams.”

While Madrid were tumbling out of Europe, Barca took another step closer to a potential trophy treble this season by knocking out Lyon 6-3 on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals.

Added to that the fact Barca hold a healthy advantage in La Liga and are also in the Copa del Rey final, and it is looking rosy for the Catalan giants once again having recently been blown off course slightly during a five-match winless streak.

Coach Pep Guardiola is determined to keep his side grounded though, saying ahead of this weekend’s trip to Almeria:

“There’s still a long way to go, we are expecting some very tough months (but) with this spirit we will go very far. What we must do is work hard. There’s such a long way to go that it’s not worth looking too far ahead.”

La Liga’s two other Champions League teams meet at the Vicente Calderon this week when Atletico Madrid host Villarreal.

Atletico followed arch rivals Real out of Europe after losing to Porto on the away goals rule but Villarreal joined Barca in the last eight after easing past Panathinaikos.

The feeling of joy at Villarreal following that success will be in stark contrast to the sombre mood down the road at their cash-crippled neighbours Valencia, whose problems appear to be going from bad worse as they prepare to welcome Recreativo Huelva to the Mestalla.

On top of their financial concerns and poor run of form that last weekend culminated in them being beaten by bottom club Numancia, the 2002 and 2004 La Liga champions might also be without up to eight players on Saturday, including Spain internationals past and present such as David Villa, Carlos Marchena, Fernando Morientes and Joaquin.

Elsewhere this weekend, fifth-placed Malaga will attempt to continue their surprise bid for a Champions League spot when they host Andalusian rivals Sevilla, who are currently third.

Real Valladolid play host to Getafe, whose coach Victor Munoz is feeling the heat, Real Mallorca make the short hop across to bottom club Espanyol, Deportivo La Coruna are at Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander meet Numancia.

Also, Real Betis, whose majority shareholder Manuel Ruiz de Lopera remains in a serious but improving condition in hospital after suffering heart problems, are at home to fellow relegation battlers Osasuna.