Real Madrid will look to a Copa del Rey date on Tuesday with third-division club Alcorcon to end a poor run of form and return to winning ways.
The match is also a chance for big-spending Madrid, which has managed just one win from its last four games, to make amends after being knocked out by another third division club, Real Irun, at this stage of the compertition last season.
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“We’re not playing that bad,” midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart said on Monday. “I remember the image we gave off against Real Irun last year – we can’t put our fans through such an ordeal again. We need to go for every competition and the Copa motivates us.”
A capacity crowd of 4,000 is expected at the Santo Domingo stadium, which sits on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.
But they won’t be treated to Cristiano Ronaldo, who remains sidelined by injury, as coach Manuel Pellegrini’s roster continued to be shortened after Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Sporting Gijon.
Strikers Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Ruud van Nistelrooy, midfielder Xabi Alonso and defenders Pepe and Ezequiel Garay are all carrying knocks, while midfielder Lassana Diarra is also away due to a family problem.
Madrid hasn’t won the competition since 1993 and some in the Spanish press are speculating that a defeat at Alcorcon could spell the end of Pellegrini’s reign after just 12 games.
“The coach is committed, he’s doing great work with the team,” Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas said. “There’s no need to be so worried.”
Barcelona begins the last of its treble trophy defense Wednesday at Cultura Leonesa, a third-division club which has played only one season in topflight football, and that was over 50 years ago. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero could attend the game between his favorite club – Barcelona – in his home province of Castile and Leon.
The Catalans couldn’t have come into the competition more emphatically than Sunday’s 6-1 win over Zaragoza, following last week’s surprise defeat to Rubin Kazan.
“The only difference with that Champions League game was that the goals came,” said striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored twice to become the Liga’s joint leading scorer.
There are four games between first division clubs, who now enter the competition at the fourth round, with Zaragoza facing last-place Malaga, Getafe playing Espanyol, Valladolid welcoming Mallorca and Osasuna at Xerez.
On Tuesday, Marbella is against Atletico Madrid, Atletico Ciudad plays Sevilla and Recreativo Huelva welcomes Sporting Gijon.
On Wednesday, it’s: Hercules vs. Almeria; Rayo Vallecano vs. Athletic Bilbao; Alcoyano vs. Valencia; Celta Vigo vs. Tenerife; Murcia vs. Deportivo La Coruna; and Puertollano vs. Villarreal. On Thursday, Salamanca plays Racing Santander.