Madrid seeks response after CL exit

Real Madrid will be under the microscope this weekend as it seeks
to respond to its shock midweek elimination from the Champions
League when it resumes its league campaign at Valladolid.

Madrid was held to a 1-1 draw at home by Lyon on Wednesday,
putting the French team through to the quarterfinals on aggregate.

With the Spanish team set on appearing in the Champions
League final in Madrid, a sixth consecutive early exit from the
competition is a major blow to morale.

However, Madrid’s disheartening draw came just days after a
spirited fightback saw it beat Sevilla 3-2, sending it to the top
of the league, level on points with Barcelona.

Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas insisted that when his team
visits Valladolid on Sunday, it will play like it did against
Sevilla, not against Lyon.

“We’re the same players that came back against Sevilla on
Saturday to go top of the league,” he said.

“We’re disappointed because for the sixth year in a row we’ve
been knocked out,” he added. “We’re going through a tough period
but we have to get over it by winning the league.”

Madrid’s recent league form is impressive, having won its
last seven games, scoring 25 goals and conceding six.

After Wednesday’s draining game coach Manuel Pellegrini is
likely to make changes to his team, although Royston Drenthe and
Karim Benzema, who did not feature against Lyon, are still doubts
for Sunday’s game due to injury.

Valladolid is the kind of lower-league opponent that Madrid
has steamrollered this season, although having dropped into the
relegation standings it now has plenty to play for as it struggles
to survive in the top tier.

Madrid’s opponent has also suffered some damaging in-house
dissent, with captain Alberto Marcos Rey sparking controversy by
saying those players not making an effort should be “left to one
side.” He later played down his remarks.

Teammate Luis Prieto appeared to agree with Rey.

“We’re in a bad situation. He’s our captain,” he said. “He’s
been at the club 15 years, he knows what it’s like. His words must
serve to get the best out of all of us. We all have to improve. On
Sunday we have to prove that they have had an effect.”

Second-place Barcelona has the seemingly more difficult game
when it hosts third-place Valencia on Sunday.

Valencia is 15 points off the lead on 47. However, its attack
is feared throughout the league, featuring David Villa, David
Silva, Pablo Hernandez and Juan Manuel Mata.

Having lost its league lead on goal difference to Madrid last
weekend after drawing 2-2 with Almeria, Barcelona needs a big
performance to silence its increasing doubters.

The Catalans’ attack has been under scrutiny, with Lionel
Messi’s goals having to compensate for the lack of form of fellow
strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry. With Ibrahimovic
suspended for Sunday’s game, Bojan Krkic could start.

With Madrid and Barcelona neck and neck, the champions’
defender Daniel Alves threw down the gauntlet to his team’s great
rival.

“I don’t consider Real Madrid league leader,” he said,
pointing out that the two teams have yet to meet in Madrid’s
Bernabeu Stadium this season, a game scheduled for mid-April. “If
(Real Madrid) want to be champions, they have to work for it.”

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