What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Real Madrid vs Valencia
When: Sunday 8th April, 2012, at 20:30 UK time
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

Critical Run

After dispatching APOEL 5-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu last week, Real Madrid confirmed a meeting with German giants Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League final. Domestic matters are at play here though and with Barcelona only six points off the pace in La Liga, Real Madrid will need to play their best football from now onwards to keep their hopes alive in both competitions.

The matches against Bayern Munich will sandwich the much-awaited Clasico meeting with Barcelona on the weekend of 21st April, making it Los Blancos’ most important period of the season. However, concentrating on these fixtures could prove costly for the side, according to midfielder Esteban Granero.

“The semi-finals against Bayern Munich will be difficult. There are no weak teams in the semis and Bayern will be tough, but we’re going to think about our match against Valencia first because there will be a lot at stake for us on Sunday."

Defender Pepe should make his return after serving a two-match ban following the Villarreal post-match incidents, while Granero himself is expected to slot into the centre of midfield next to Xabi Alonso as Sami Khedira and Lassana Diarra sit this one out.

Third Place to Defend

Once heavy favourites to claim third place in La Liga, Valencia find themselves now just a single point in front of Manuel Pellegrini’s Malaga. With their weekend opponents vying for all points possible as well due to their competitive run against Barcelona, a lot is at stake for both sides. But while Los Blancos can afford to slip up, Valencia cannot.

The visitors will be hoping that no controversy will occur on the night, as they pleaded for a last minute penalty back when the two met at the Mestalla on 19th November. While actual replays showed that the ball hit Gonzalo Higuain in the chest, and not on the arm, Valencia still felt cheated by the referee.

Thus, this could inspire Los Che to a steely determination to return to Valencia after clinching all three points against Jose Mourinho’s men. However, Los Blancos have only drawn once and lost once at home, making any visiting team’s task near-impossible.

Yet boasting talented players such as ex-Real Madrid striker Roberto Soldado, French defender Adil Rami and in-demand left sided talent Jordi Alba, Los Che can certainly provide a worthy challenge for Los Blancos on the night and give Barcelona a hand in the title race.

Recent form

Real Madrid:
APOEL 0-3 Real Madrid (27/03; Champions League)
Osasuna 1-5 Real Madrid (31/03; La Liga)
Real Madrid 5-2 APOEL (04/04; Champions League)

AZ Alkmaar 2-1 Valencia (29/03; Europa League)
Valencia 1-1 Levante (01/04; La Liga)
Valencia 4-0 AZ Alkmaar (05/04; Europa League)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Sami Khedira; Lassana Diarra; Ricardo Carvalho; Sergio Ramos (suspended)

Valencia: Miguel; Ever Banega; Sergio Canales

Players to watch

Real Madrid – Kaka: The Brazilian was brilliant in both legs against APOEL, raising questions as to why his coach opted to bench him in the game against Villarreal. His return to form will be crucial as Real Madrid enter an important stage of the season.

Valencia – Adil Rami: His brace against AZ Alkmaar only confirmed his status as one of La Liga’s best defenders this term, if not the all-round top star. Rami is a pillar for Valencia coach Unai Emery, and on such form, could put his talents on show at the Bernabeu.

Match Prediction

There is no room for slip-ups for both sides on the night, but Real Madrid are playing free-flowing football once again and will want to maintain their lead over Barcelona. Valencia should not suffer the same fate as Real Sociedad, who were thrashed 5-1 recently, Osasuna and APOEL, but Los Blancos are still expected to win. Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia.

Real Madrid v Valencia is sure to be a fiercely contested match. Who will you bet on? Make sure you visit OLBG for tips and to compare the current odds and betting markets available at all the important bookmakers.