Beckham falls back in Real's race to catch up Barcelona

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The Independent Football

David Beckham is preparing to play at right-back when Real Madrid visit Real Sociedad today.

David Beckham is preparing to play at right-back when Real Madrid visit Real Sociedad today.

With five games to go, time is running out for Real Madrid if they are to deprive Barcelona of the Spanish La Liga title. Real's regular right-back, Michel Salgado, is suspended, so the coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, has adapted his line-up which will see the England captain drop into defence.

"I have played in that position twice before, when I was at Manchester United," Beckham said. The fit-again former Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen will return but Zinedine Zidane is suspended.

"We depend on Barcelona making mistakes and I hope they slip up this weekend because the sooner the better for us," Beckham said. "They've got difficult away games coming up, too."

Beckham is not alone in playing out of position since Luxemburgo's arrival last December. Zidane has been forced out on to the left wing, but he said: "I don't have the acceleration I had when I was 20 or 25. If you play on the wing and you're not quick, like me, you can't play your best." He would prefer his customary central play-making role: "Everybody know I'm best there."

Barcelona lead by six points with just five games remaining, so any slip by Madrid would almost certainly end their title ambitions. Barça have - on paper at least - a far easier match at home to relegation-threatened Albacete. Real have lost on their last three visits to Anoeta and the Sociedad striker Darko Kovacevic has an impressive scoring record against them, notching up 10 goals in 12 games.

Luis Figo, who has been relegated to the bench for the last three games, is suffering from a minor leg strain, but Gravesen will play after recovering from an ankle injury.

Barcelona are anxious not to take anything for granted in their fixture against Albacete, even though their opponents have lost their last seven games on the trot.

"These sorts of games are often misleading," said the Brazilian defender Juliano Belletti. "They have nothing to lose and will be going all out for the win."

Barça will be without their influential playmaker Xavi, who is suspended, but can count on their top scorer Samuel Eto'o, who has recovered from a knee injury, and the Mexico midfielder Rafael Marquez, who returns from suspension.

In Italy, Fiorentina versus Milan would once have been billed as a meeting between two of Italy's leading clubs. The stakes will again be high when the teams meet at Fiorentina's Stadio Franchi today, although this time their objectives could not be more different.

With five rounds of Serie A left, champions Milan remain neck and neck on 73 points with Juventus in the race for the title. Fiorentina's return to the top flight, however, has degenerated into a relegation battle.

The twice Italian champions have earned just four points in the last six matches. Their total of 34 points leaves them in the middle of a group of six clubs scrapping to avoid the three spots for the drop. Just five points separate bottom-placed Atalanta on 31 from 15th-placed Siena on 36.

Fiorentina's famously loyal fans probably expected more this season, especially after Fabrizio Miccoli, Martin Jorgensen and Hidetoshi Nakata arrived in the close season, but the team never got going. The one bright note is the recovery of the striker Valeri Bojinov from a thigh strain. The 19-year-old should accompany Miccoli up front on Saturday.

Milan have not won a Serie A game at the Franchi in 10 years but a 6-0 demolition of Fiorentina at the San Siro earlier this season means their players are confident of reversing the trend.

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