Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Stuttering Madrid face test

Reuters, BARCELONA

RC Celta de Vigo goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez, left, falls on the ball as teammate Facundo Roncaglia, right, and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo take a tumble during their Copa del Rey second leg quarter-final at the Balaidos in Vigo, Spain, on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA

Real Madrid have come crashing back down to Earth in recent weeks after last year’s highs and must now cope with a long injury list as they try to limit the fallout from Wednesday’s Copa del Rey exit when they host Real Sociedad on Sunday.

The European champions are still in pole position to win a first La Liga title since 2012, leading nearest challengers Sevilla by a point and third-placed Barcelona by two with a game in hand on both teams.

However, their 2-2 draw against RC Celta de Vigo, which saw them exit the competition 4-3 on aggregate, exposed weaknesses in Zinedine Zidane’s side, who set a Spanish record of 40 games unbeaten in all competitions earlier this month.

There are a number of parallels with Real’s predicament and the New Year slump they experienced two years ago with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm.

A 22-game winning streak came to an end in January 2015 and that was swiftly followed by Copa del Rey elimination by Atletico Madrid while injuries also piled up.

Injuries forced Zidane to play midfielder Casemiro at the heart of the defense against Celta and while Raphael Varane is to return to face Sociedad, he will still be without Marcelo, Pepe, Dani Carvajal, Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale.

However, Zidane appeared reluctant to address their weaknesses against Celta, such as a glaring lack of organization toward the end of the first half when they went behind to Danilo’s own-goal.

The sight of captain Sergio Ramos remonstrating with his teammates suggested the defense needed more support.

“After playing how we did I have little to reproach my players for,” Zidane told reporters on Wednesday. “When you play badly or don’t deserve to go through it’s different, but we can’t blame anyone. We put in a serious performance and showed character, it’s just a shame we couldn’t get what we wanted.”

“We haven’t been able to put our chances away recently, but we’re going to turn that around,” he said. “If we keep working hard we’re going to solve this. I can’t say what’s been happening recently, but I’m not angry or worried. This is football.”

Real’s resolve will be put to the test against Real Sociedad, who are fifth in the standings, level on points with Atletico Madrid in fourth. They beat Celta 1-0 in their previous outing.

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