Rayo Vallecano Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 La Liga Week 24: Underdogs Fight For Europe

Marcelo (L) of Real Madrid is tackled by Piti of Rayo Vallecano during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano in Madrid, Spain. Real and Rayo play on February 26, 2012. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Real Madrid won't necessarily be able to clinch an easy win in a local derby against Rayo Vallecano.

It's less well-known than Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid, and even a little less well-known than Real Madrid vs. Getafe, but the match between Los Merengues and Rayo Vallecano is a local Madrid derby, and it's a big one this season. Real Madrid will be expected to win as they are in every game, save for the matches against Barcelona (and possibly at the Mestalla), but Rayo are no pushovers.

Rayo Vallecano were expected to be involved in a relegation battle this season, but are instead firmly in the top half and competing for European places. They defeated fellow European rivals Levante 5-3 last week in a spectacular performance and they won't be expecting a loss before the match starts. They are also rested, while Madrid are returning from a trip to Moscow in the UEFA Champions League.

Karim Benzema will be out for Madrid, and will likely be replaced by Gonzalo Higuain in the starting XI. Angel di Maria did not travel to Moscow after making a substitute appearance last week for Madrid, and could potentially return to the starting XI against Rayo.

Game Date/Time: Sunday, Feb. 26, 10:00 a.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. local

Venue: Estadio del Rayo Vallecano, Madrid, Spain

TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), GolTV (Canada)

Online: ESPN3

For more on Los Merengues, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid.

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