MADRID, Oct 18 (Reuters) Espanyol, Real Madrid's hosts on Saturday, have been hitting the front pages of the Spanish press over the last few days for their league performances and the heroics of their players on international duty.
Last season's UEFA Cup finalists had an inconsistent start to the campaign but have now won three in a row, including victories over Champions League contestants Valencia and Sevilla, to go fifth in the league.
They received another boost by having three players, Raul Tamudo, Luis Garcia and Albert Riera, selected for Spain's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Denmark last week.
Tamudo scored the first, set up the second and Riera, on his debut, lashed in the third to wrap up a 3-1 victory in Aarhus. Real only had two players in the Spain squad.
''Now we are riding the wave, we need to stay on it. Everyone is talking about us because of the goals with the national team, and our good results,'' said midfielder Moises Hurtado.
''But it all could be so different. We need to remember who we are and what we have to do to win.'' Leaders Real, however, have fond memories of the last time the two sides met back in May.
A Walter Pandiani hat-trick put Espanyol 3-1 up inside 34 minutes in the Bernabeu, but Real put on a thrilling fightback to seal a 4-3 win through Argentine Gonzalo Higuain's 89th-minute winner. Real went on to take the league title.
Real are unbeaten and have not conceded in their last three, but have failed to impress as they ground out results against teams in the lower half of the table of late.
ROSSI SUSPENDED Bernd Schuster's team have a two-point lead over an improving Barcelona, who have banged in 11 goals in their last three league outings.
Unbeaten Barca took Atletico Madrid apart 3-0 two weeks ago but face a tough test away to third-placed Villarreal on Saturday.
Manuel Pellegrini's outfit are deprived of top scorer Giuseppe Rossi (five goals), who is suspended.
Saturday also sees misfiring Sevilla look to end a run of four defeats in the league away to bottom club Levante.
Basement side Levante, who have one point from seven games, sacked coach Abel Resino last week and brought in Italian Giovanni De Biasi to try to turn things around.
On Sunday, Atletico Madrid (sixth) host Real Zaragoza (eighth) in a clash between two sides expected to be pushing for a top-four finish.
REUTERS BJR PM1515