Valencia trip offers Real Madrid chance to extend lead

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DUSHANBE. Real Madrid play one of the two games in hand they currently have over their rivals for the Liga Santander title when they travel to play Valencia in the Mestalla Stadium today night.

The game will be played at the unusual time of 18.45 local time (22.45 Dushanbe time) so as not to clash with the Champions League matches which kick off two hours later.

Madrid travel with a one-point lead over FC Barcelona and on the back of a comfortable 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday afternoon in which coach Zinedine Zidane was able to rest players such as Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos.

Ramos was suffering from a minor muscle problem but will be fit for the game in Mestalla and will probably replace Pepe in the starting 11, while Marcelo will also be back in the side after Nacho Fernandez suffered a muscle injury at the weekend.

Gareth Bale returned against Espanyol after 88 days out recovering from an ankle operation and was able to celebrate his recovery with Madrid's second goal of the game as he played his first 20 minutes football in almost 3 months.

The Welshman said afterwards he still needed time to be back to his best and he can expect to play another 30-45 minutes today night.

The Valencia game was originally to be played on December 18, but was postponed due to Real Madrid participating in the World Club Championships and there is a feeling the delay has been more of a benefit to Valencia than the league leaders.

Before the end of 2016, Valencia were struggling for form and confidence under former Italy boss Cesare Prandelli, but since the Italian's resignation at the end of the year and his replacement by Voro Gonzalez, Valencia's performances have improved noticeably and last Sunday's 2-0 win over Athletic Club Bilbao lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Madrid will travel full of confidence and with several fresh pairs of legs in their side, but they will face a rival that looks a lot tougher to beat than they would have been two months earlier.

Source: National information agency of Tajikistan