Madrid seeks to cut Barca lead with improved form

MADRID — With a recent improvement in form and several players recovering from injuries, Real Madrid hopes to cut the gap on Spanish league leader Barcelona this weekend.

By (AP)

Published: Thu 4 Feb 2010, 8:26 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:03 AM

On Saturday, Madrid hosts 14th-place Espanyol and No. 7 Getafe visits Barcelona. The unbeaten Catalans have 52 points, a five-point lead over Madrid.

However, last weekend’s 3-1 win against Deportivo La Coruna that broke a 19-year winless streak for Madrid at Riazor Stadium has fueled hopes it is running into title-winning form.

The performance of Jose Maria ‘Guti’ Gutierrez in particular has earned plaudits. He was sidelined for much of the first half of the season following a run-in with coach Manuel Pellegrini. However, his vision, exemplified by an extravagant backheel to set up a goal for Karim Benzema against Deportivo, has seen the 33-year-old midfielder’s stock soaring again.

‘Guti has been playing at a high standard in the last games,’ captain Raul Gonzalez said. ‘Only a genius could do (that backheel) and that’s what he is. He’s returned with a lot of enthusiasm and he’s comfortable.’

In midfield, Pellegrini could also have Lassana Diarra and Rafael van der Vaart available as they recover from injuries.

In attack, Cristiano Ronaldo has the second game of his two-match ban to serve for breaking the nose of Malaga’s Patrick Mtiliga.

Raul could form the same partnership with Benzema, who scored two goals against Deportivo. However, Gonzalo Higuain could also feature on Saturday on his return from injury.

Higuain’s goals and the arrival of Ronaldo and Benzema have resulted in Raul spending increasing time on the bench this season, a situation he appears to have accepted.

‘For anyone, not playing regularly is not ideal but I can’t complain,’ Raul said. ‘For 15 years, I have played in virtually everything and now I’ve spent three months playing less. It’s a situation that had to arrive at some point.’

League champion Barcelona seeks to extend its 20-game unbeaten run. However, it will be wary of a Getafe team which has avoided defeat in its last two visits to the Camp Nou. The Madrid team is also enjoying a fine cup run, despite losing the first leg of its Copa del Rey semifinal 20 to Sevilla on Wednesday.

Although Pep Guardiola’s team is out of the cup, it is enjoying an excellent run in both attack and defense. In its last five league and cup games, Barcelona has scored 14 goals without conceding.

‘The boss focuses a lot on defense and that’s showing results,’ defender Rafael Marquez said. ‘Now we have more experience with the system we use.’

Some Madrid media have questioned Barca’s 1-0 win against Sporting Gijon last weekend, claiming the free kick that led to Pedro Rodriguez’s goal was not taken correctly and that the striker was offside.

‘If Madrid is behind us (in the standings) it’s because we’re doing things better,’ midfielder Seydou Keita said. ‘If referees are being talked about it’s probably just to unnerve us, because if we’re leaders it’s because we’ve been better.’

Defender Daniel Alves is doubtful for the Getafe game due to injury.

Third-place Valencia plays Valladolid on Saturday. Now 13 points off the lead, Valencia’s realistic aim for the season is to remain in the Champions League spots.

On Sunday, it’s: Malaga vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Athletic Bilbao vs. Xerez; Mallorca vs. Villarreal; Osasuna vs. Tenerife; Almeria vs. Sporting Gijon; Zaragoza vs. Sevilla and Racing Santander vs. Atletico Madrid.

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