Tough tests for Real be­gin with visit to Atletico

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

THERE is a vague, gen­er­alised sen­ti­ment across Spain at the mo­ment that Real Madrid are top of La Liga more be­cause of the slip-ups of their ri­vals than be­cause of their own mer­its. And that the qual­ity and char­ac­ter of The Whites has not yet been prop­erly tested so far this sea­son.

All that will now change, in a dif­fi­cult five-week pe­riod that will see Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and com­pany visit Atletico and Barcelona – and then fly off to Ja­pan for the Club World Cup.

“We know that we have a test­ing pe­riod ahead of us now. We will have to be very or­gan­ised and alert,” Real coach Zine­dine Zi­dane said.

“Ev­ery­body wants to beat the team that are lead­ers and also cham­pi­ons of Europe... These games will be very dif­fi­cult.”

Zi­dane will be able to count on vet­er­ans Pepe, Ser­gio Ramos and Luka Mo­dric, who are fit again af­ter long ab­sences. How­ever, Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Al­varo Mo­rata are all out of ac­tion.

Real, the only un­beaten team left in La Liga, are six points ahead of a fourth­placed Atletico side who know they have no op­tion but to beat their old crosstown ri­vals.

“We re­ally need to close the gap at the top, and that means win­ning on Satur­day,” Atletico cap­tain Gabi said.

“Real are an ex­cel­lent team, but we have beaten them sev­eral times be­fore – and I re­ally be­lieve we are go­ing to do so again.”

An­toine Griez­mann (pix) should be fit to lead the Atletico at­tack, de­spite miss­ing France’s Tues­day friendly against Ivory Coast, and Ni­co­las Gai­tan is ready to re­turn.

When asked for a fore­cast on the Madrid derby, for­mer Real left-back Roberto Car­los said: “That is dif­fi­cult to do. It will be a great match.

“I only lost once against Atletico in 11 years, but they have be­come a much stronger team in re­cent years.”

Real have not won in the Es­ta­dio Calderon in La Liga since 2013. It will be the last derby staged there be­fore Atletico move to their new sta­dium next sum­mer.

To­mor­row also sees sec­ond-placed Barcelona at home to midtable Malaga, with Barca’s famed strike force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ney­mar pos­si­bly tired af­ter their trips back to South Amer­ica for World Cup qualifiers.

“Barca al­ways seem to strug­gle straight af­ter the na­tional team matches. Let’s hope that this prob­lem does not re­cur against Malaga,”

The week­end’s other matches are Real Betis vs Las Pal­mas, Eibar vs Celta Vigo, Alaves vs Es­panyol, Sport­ing Gi­jon vs Real So­ciedad, Va­len­cia vs Granada and Le­ganes vs Osasuna. – dpa

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