Real striving for six of the best

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The Independent Football

The Real Madrid coach Wanderley Luxemburgo knows anything less than a sixth straight league victory, against Espanyol at home tonight, will ease the pressure on the leaders, Barcelona.

The Brazilian's appointment at the end of last year has coincided with a revival in Real's fortunes, although they will be tested by Espanyol, the season's surprise package.

"Real are behind in the race for the title and the only thing we can do is to keep winning and waiting," says Luxemburgo. "The players have to show that they have the hunger to win and must focus on each match."

Real eked out a 2-1 win over the bottom side Numancia last week to stay seven points behind Barcelona, who produced a devastating second-half performance to crush Seville 4-0. Morale is high at Real and Luxemburgo appears to have grafted a more competitive edge on to a team which looked short of confidence at the start of the season.

"He makes us work hard and he organises the team perfectly," the Real midfielder David Beckham said. "That's just what the team needed. Everyone is less agitated now that he is in charge."

Real will be boosted by the return of Ronaldo, who missed last week's game after rushing back to Brazil because of a family illness. Espanyol will be without their inspirational forward Raul Tamudo, who is serving a one-match ban.

Espanyol beat Real 1-0 earlier this season and are in fourth place in the league after their best start in a decade.

"We are in an enviable position," says coach Miguel Angel Lotina. "We won't win the league but apart from that there is no limit to our ambition."

Barcelona entertain Atletico Madrid tomorrow night having reasserted their championship credentials last week with that thumping of Seville.

They now face another stern test against a well-organised Atletico side. But with Ronaldinho back to his best and Samuel Eto'o in seemingly unstoppable form, Barcelona should emerge with the points.

In Italy, Milan, who returned to form in midweek following successive defeats, continue their pursuit of the Serie A leaders Juventus when they entertain Lazio tomorrow.

The champions slipped eight points off the pace following back-to-back defeats against Livorno and Bologna, but put the defence of their title back on track in midweek with a 4-1 demolition of Messina.

With Juve facing a tricky visit to seventh-placed Palermo, Milan will want to benefit from any slip-up with victory against a Lazio side in freefall.