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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Real Madrid seeks response after European exit

MADRID (AP)—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.

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