Crisis-hit Madrid need pre-Clasico boost
AFP · 13 Mar 2015, 08:51
Published: 13 Mar 2015 08:51 GMT+01:00
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Los Blancos surrendered top spot in La Liga for the first time in five months with a 1-0 defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.
Yet, worse was to come for the European champions as they were on the verge of Champions League elimination at the hands of Schalke after a humiliating 4-3 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.
The holders sneaked through to the last eight 5-4 on aggregate, but there have been suggestions coach Carlo Ancelotti could lose his job if things don't turn around drastically in the coming weeks.
The one positive for Madrid from the shambles in midweek was the return of Luka Modric after four months out with a thigh injury, but he insisted Real need more than just his presence to get back to the sort of form that saw them win 22 games in a row to end 2014.
"Hopefully we will come out of this stronger. One player can't fix everything," said the Croatian.
"We need to play as a team and fight for our teammates. When we do that we are a very good team and very dangerous.
"Hopefully we will get back to playing like at the start of the season. We have quality and the same players. I think we will return to seeing the best Real Madrid in the coming games."
Ancelotti will also be able to call on Sergio Ramos to aid his creaking defence for the first time in a month for the visit of Levante.
The Italian has insisted he still had full confidence in his star-studded squad despite apologising to fans for damaging the image of the club with their recent performances.
By the time Madrid kick-off at the Bernabeu on Sunday they could already be four points behind Barca, who travel to face minnows Eibar at their 5,000 capacity Ipurua stadium on Saturday.
Luis Enrique's men will be short on defensive cover as regular full-backs Jordi Alba and Dani Alves are both suspended, whilst Javier Mascherano may not be risked as he is one booking away from missing the Clasico.
Sergio Busquets is also out with an ankle injury and Enrique may also give a rest to some of his established stars ahead of a busy week which also sees Manchester City visit the Camp Nou in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Eibar have slipped towards the relegation zone on a run of seven straight defeats after a great start to their debut campaign in the top flight.
However, midfielder Saul Berjon believes his side can take encouragement from Barca's defeats to the likes of Malaga and Celta Vigo this season.
"The biggest surprises for Barca are against teams like Eibar. It wouldn't be the first time they have lost against teams infinitely more humble."
Champions Atletico Madrid will also have one eye on their upcoming Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen when they travel to Espanyol on Saturday.
Diego Simeone's men are seven points off the top and according to the Argentine are more focused on seeing off the challenge by Valencia for third place than chasing down Barca and Madrid as they did so spectacularly last season.
Atletico's top scorer Mario Mandzukic and full-back Guillherme Siqueira are suspended, but Antoine Griezmann returns from a ban he served in the 1-1 draw with Valencia last weekend.
Valencia can, temporarily at least, leapfrog Atletico into third should they avoid defeat when they host Deportivo la Coruna on Friday night.