Real Madrid face Barcelona in a make-or-break El Clasico this weekend aided by a resurgent Cristiano Ronaldo, but acutely aware that defeat would see them trail their bitter enemies by a massive 11 points.
Ronaldo has hit form at just the right time, netting three in the 4-1 win at Ajax in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, that haul coming after his hat-trick in the 5-1 La Liga rout of RC Deportivo de La Coruna last weekend.
The last time Real and Barcelona clashed in the league in April, Ronaldo scored the decisive goal at the Camp Nou as Madrid went on to win the league, but this season Barcelona have begun with ominous intent to reclaim their crown with six straight victories.
Perhaps the result of basking in their own triumph, Jose Mourinho’s side instead made a stuttering start with just one win from the first four games, but since then they have clicked into gear and Ronaldo has looked more like his old self.
The Portuguese had looked moody and introspective, refusing to celebrate some goals with his teammates and declaring himself unhappy, but his winner against Manchester City in the Champions League last month showed his desire was back and now he is fully primed to face Barca after his successive hat-tricks.
“I am very happy with the way we are playing and the victory against Ajax gives us all plenty of confidence, while for me personally to score three is vital for my own confidence,” Ronaldo said.
His teammate Xabi Alonso admitted that there is no margin for error.
“To win will be fantastic and lose, bad, there is no way of hiding the fact. We are aware of the difference in points and so obviously we are going out for the victory, but we need to rest and prepare,” Alonso said.
Although Barca have a 100 percent record, they have had injury worries to deal with, especially in defense.
The bad news to come from their mid-week Champions League win over SL Benfica was that Carles Puyol will be out of action for up to two months with a dislocated elbow.
The talismanic defender was only just returning from a lengthy layoff and is now back in the treatment room along with fellow centerhalf Gerard Pique.
Elsewhere, unbeaten duo Atletico Madrid and Malaga go head-to-head, while high-flying Sevilla and RCD Mallorca, both on 11 points, are against RC Celta de Vigo and Granada respectively.
At the other end of the table, RCD Espanyol have just one point and they are away to Real Valladolid, while Athletic Bilbao and CA Osasuna immediately above them face each other.