Raul's transfer chatter is talk of a nation

The Real striker mulls move to New York but for now Madrid's long-serving player will hope neighbours Atletico can hold Barcelona.

With Barcelona and Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey and free from fixtures this week, the transfer speculation regarding which players both clubs are hoping to sign or sell in the summer moved into overdrive. The Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is Barca's main target and their alleged approach angered the Gunners sufficiently to rebuke Barca publicly.

The Catalans then issued a statement on their website saying that they had not made any offer, adding that they valued their good relationship with Arsenal. The idea of Real Madrid being cast as the bad boys of football appeals, and Barca feel that they have a good reputation to protect - particularly as Arsenal controversially snared the youngster from Barcelona in 2003. Fabregas has always maintained that he would like to play for Barca one day, something which manager Arsene Wenger accepts as inevitable.

Arsenal are fighting a losing battle, but like Manchester United with Cristiano Ronaldo, they want to keep hold of the player for as long as possible. Fabregas, 22, a product of the Camp Nou system, is a Barca fan and Catalan to boot, born and raised in the town of Vilassar de Mar, 30 miles north of Barcelona on the Meditteranean coast. With presidential elections due this summer at Barcelona, it is inevitable transfer targets will be leaked. It is understood that outgoing president Joan Laporta would love to sign Fabregas as a final gesture, yet with Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita all in similar positions, it is doubtful that Barca actually need Fabregas - especially for the ?60 million (Dh302m) being mooted.

Madrid have also been linked to Fabregas, though the main transfer story in the Spanish capital this week has been club legend Raul receiving an offer to play for New York Red Bulls. Raul is 33 in the summer and made the first of nearly 700 Madrid appearances in 1994. Although he remains an important part of the squad, he has started just eight of Madrid's 20 league games so far this season, while he has been on the bench 11 times. Still, the prospect of him wearing anything but the white of Madrid unnerves most in Spain.

"I just can't imagine him not playing for Madrid," said teammate Marcelo. "He is an icon here, a true phenomenon." A childhood Atletico Madrid fan, Raul likes the idea of playing and living in the United States. He will also be hoping that the team he supported as a boy can beat Barcelona tomorrow night in the capital. Madrid trail the champions by five points and Atletico are buoyed by reaching the Copa del Rey final, where they will meet Sevilla.

Racing Santander, Getafe, Sevilla and Atletico - the four teams who competed in the Copa Del Rey semi-final second legs in midweek - all play tomorrow night. Sevilla and Atletico were narrowly defeated in the second legs this week, but their convincing home victories in the first leg (Atletico beat Racing 4-0, Seville won 2-0 over Getafe) were enough to see them through on aggregate. The final is likely to be staged at the Santiago Bernabéu, four days after the great stadium hosts the Champions League final.

In the Primera Liga, Madrid play at bottom of the table Xerez tonight and welcome Ronaldo back after his two game ban for elbowing a Malaga player. In the two other league games, Sporting, in 13th, host Valencia, in third, in what will be another chance for striker David Villa to return to club where his career started and where he is still revered. @Email:sports@thenational.ae Xerez v Real Madrid, 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +2