Bilbao ready for fight to preserve top-flight status

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The Independent Football

All crises are relative. Wanderley Luxemburgo may feel the world is collapsing on him after last week's humbling by Barcelona and Raul's injury but his Real Madrid team are only four points adrift of their arch rivals and are through to the Champions' League knock-out stages. At the other end of La Liga sit Athletic Bilbao, the only club beside Real and Barcelona to have retained a place in the top flight since its inception in 1928.

Last month, the Basque club engaged their former coach Javier Clemente, who led them to back-to-back league titles in 1983 and 1984 before coaching Spain, but he has so far failed to halt an 11-match winless run. Tonight Bilbao travel to Real Mallorca who are struggling themselves in 15th place under the former Valencia and Internazionale coach Hector Cuper.

"No team in our situation can afford to hide, and Mallorca should know that we are going there to bust a gut looking for the win," said Clemente. "They will fight until they drop exhausted."

Back at the top, Barcelona, Osasuna (second) and Real Madrid (fourth) should all win tomorrow at home to Racing Santander, Alaves and Real Sociedad respectively. Third-placed Celta Vigo are at Valencia tonight.

In Italy, Juventus should maintain their five-point lead over Milan and Fiorentina by defeating Treviso tomorrow. Milan play Lecce tonight while Fiorentina have a more testing visit to the capital to play Roma. Luciano Spalletti's team will need to keep quiet Luca Toni who has scored 15 goals in 12 league games this season and cemented his place in the national side.

Another player looking to prosper in a World Cup year is Bayern Munich's Iranian midfielder Ali Karimi who will aim, at home to Mainz today, to build on his impressive midweek display as Michael Ballack's understudy.

With an injury-hit Werder Bremen facing a difficult trip to Schalke 04, and Hamburg at Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern could be eight points clear tonight.

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