Real Madrid have no room to slip up.
Atletico Madrid didn't capitalise on last weekend's 1-1 draw with Real Zaragoza. It was a result that could have cost Jose Mourinho's men their second place finish, but instead served as a potent reminder that Los Blancos still have plenty of work to do if they are to finish above their city rivals.
A 3-0 Champions League quarterfinal thrashing of Galatasaray will go a long way toward calming any jitters after the Zaragoza draw. Levante are next up at the Bernabeu and make the journey from Valencia with little expectation of nabbing a result.
Before Zaragoza, Real Madrid put together a decent string of six wins in La Liga. The last time Mourinho's team tasted domestic defeat was Feb 2, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored an own-goal winner against Granada. Levante's task is made even more difficult when you consider Real are unbeaten at home all season.
The hosts will have a full squad of stars to play with. Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain both took advantage of their midweek auditions against Galatasaray and are likely to fight it out for a starting spot. Alvaro Arbeloa could take over for Michael Essien at rightback, while Marcelo may be afforded an opportunity on the left side of defence over Fabio Coentrao.
Luka Modric came on as a substitute in the Champions League match and could also replace one of Real's midfield trio in Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira or Xabi Alonso. Mourinho has a healthy and hungry bunch to work with, so expect changes.
Things aren't so straightforward for a Levante side that has one win in their last eight La Liga matches. David Navarro is suspended and will miss the reverse of a fixture that saw him elbow Ronaldo back in November (via ESPN). Juan Ignacio Martinez will also be without Jose Barkero, who remains sidelined through injury (via SportsMole).
This is likely to be a rerun of the heated encounter we witnessed at the end of 2012. Madrid won 2-1 in a highly dramatic match that saw Ronaldo substituted at halftime after having his eye bloodied by a combative Levante side. Spanish media reported a dressing room brawl between Sergio Ballesteros and Pepe after the physical affair.
In the aftermath, Levante released an ironic statement poking fun at their opposition (via The Daily Mail).
Will emotion run high once more between these two teams? Levante will hope so. Martinez's squad will only overcome Real if they can frustrate the opposition into making mistakes. Ronaldo will also be on a mission to exact revenge against a side that scuppered his beauty the last time they met.
Who will emerge victorious between Real Madrid and Levante? Can the visitors produce a positive result? Let me know in the comments section and be sure to follow me on Twitter:
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