Sat, Sep 22, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Real look to kick-start their season at Rayo

AFP, MADRID

Champions Real Madrid aim to get their La Liga campaign back on track away to city rivals Rayo Vallecano de Madrid following a dismal start which has seen a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona open up an eight-point lead over them with the season little more than a month old.

Many reasons have been offered for the run of just one win in four games, from a demanding pre-season tour to claims that Jose Mourinho has lost control of the dressing room, but Real did offer the motivation and fight that had been missing to come from behind to beat UEFA Champions League opponents Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

Defeat away to Sevilla last weekend, though, means that Real have only picked up four points so far and afterwards an angry Mourinho was particularly disappointed with the manner of the defeat, with the players appearing to lack interest.

Sergio Ramos, one of the heavyweights in the Madrid dressing room who has stood up to Mourinho in the past, appeared to be the one to pay the price as he was dropped against City and Raphael Varane came in to partner Pepe at centerhalf.

The pressure on the shoulders of the Portuguese coach would really have increased with a further defeat, which looked quite possible at 2-1 down with six minutes to go, but Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo turned the game around.

“We knew that we were not playing well and we didn’t need the trainer to tell us that,” defender Alvaro Arbeloa said. “There is a very good relationship in the dressing room and we are in agreement with the coach. Now after that important win [against City] we need to keep going.”

Most of the question marks at the start of the season were over how Barca would be able to overturn Madrid with their new coach Tito Vilanova, and with Messi leading the way they have made a storming start with four straight wins in the league and they next play Granada at the Camp Nou.

Messi also proved his value on the European stage with two late goals as Barca too had to come from behind to beat Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.

The main concern for Vilanova is the number of players missing from the defense, with Gerard Pique adding to the list against Spartak, which saw Alex Song come on to partner Javier Mascherano at the back.

Carles Puyol and Jordi Alba were also out, along with long-term absentee Eric Abidal.

The off-field problems concerning Malaga have not affected their start to the season and they sit behind Barcelona on 10 points, with Athletic Bilbao their next opponents.

Qatari owner Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani offloaded some of the star players over the summer and was looking for buyers, but the crisis now appears to have passed, although he has cut back on his investment.

Real Madrid’s conquerors last weekend, Sevilla, travel away to RC Deportivo de La Coruna, while RCD Mallorca, who have also made a strong start, have a tough match with the visit of Valencia.

Europa League champions Atletico Madrid entertain newly promoted Real Valladolid, who have slumped to back-to-back defeats.

At the foot of the table, CA Osasuna and RCD Espanyol both have just one point and they take on Real Zaragoza and Real Betis Balompie respectively.

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