Rattled Real Madrid aim to halt sudden slump

Real Madrid/ PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

Real Madrid/ PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

Real Madrid host high-flying Real Sociedad on Sunday aiming to reverse an alarming dip in form that has seen Zinedine Zidane’s seemingly unbeatable squad just two weeks ago fail to win in three of their last four matches.

The European champions bowed out of the Copa del Rey to Celta Vigo in midweek with a 2-2 draw at Balaidos not enough to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit.

Zidane’s men still enjoy a one point lead over Sevilla, with Barcelona a point further adrift in third, and a game in hand over their title rivals.

However, the visit of Sociedad, who are level on points with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, kicks off a daunting run of fixtures for Real with four away league games to follow in February.

“I prefer it to happen now than in a month’s time with La Liga or the Champions League on the line,” protested Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on Real’s slump.

Madrid’s dip in form has coincided with a series of injury problems with seven first-team regulars missing the trip to Vigo.

Only Raphael Varane is expected to return for the weekend with Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Pepe again unavailable.

Zidane has particular problems at full-back as the much-criticised Danilo suffered another harrowing night in scoring an own goal in midweek, whilst Marcelo’s understudy Fabio Coentrao has made just one previous La Liga appearance this season.

Sociedad are also suffering a Copa del Rey hangover as they were thumped 5-2 by Barcelona on Thursday to bow out 6-2 on aggregate.

– Barca hit form –
That victory extended Barca’s winning streak to five games — their longest of the season so far.

Luis Enrique’s men have the chance to leapfrog Madrid and Sevilla to the top of the table for at least a few hours as they are the first of the top three in action on Sunday away at Real Betis.

“We wanted a good performance to keep the positive run we are on since the start of 2017 going,” said Barca midfielder Denis Suarez after netting twice against Sociedad.

“Now we have to think about the game at Betis, win it, and put pressure on those at the top.”

There is another Seville against Barcelona clash as La Liga’s most in-form side Sevilla travel to Espanyol looking for a sixth straight win.

Jorge Sampaoli’s men have registered Sevilla’s best ever points tally for the first half of the season and can also go top ahead of kick-off at the Bernabeu with another victory.

Spanish international Vitolo remains out injured, but Samir Nasri should return after missing last weekend’s 4-2 win at Osasuna.

The other two Copa del Rey semi-finalists go head-to-head in Vitoria as Alaves host Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Villarreal’s poor start to the year has seen them fall behind in the chase for the top four, but the visit of lowly Granada provides the Yellow Submarine a great chance for their first win of 2017.

And Valencia’s recent revival will be tested as they try to inflict Las Palmas’ first home league defeat of the season on Monday.

Fixtures (GMT)

Friday

Osasuna v Malaga (1945)

Saturday

Villarreal v Granada (1200), Alaves v Atletico Madrid (1515), Eibar v Deportivo la Coruna (1730), Leganes v Celta Vigo (1945)

Sunday

Real Betis v Barcelona (1100), Espanyol v Sevilla (1515), Athletic Bilbao v Sporting Gijon (1730), Real Madrid v Real Sociedad (1945)

Monday

Las Palmas v Valencia (1945)



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