Real aim to close the gap

New and improved Real aim to cut Barca's five-point lead in Spain's Primera Division.

    'Guti' has enjoyed a triumphant return to form and favour recently [GALLO/GETTY]
    Real Madrid will be hoping to capitalise on a recent improvement in form to cut the lead of rivals Barcelona in Spain's Primera Division this weekend.

    Their triumphant 3-1 win last weekend against Deportivo La Coruna broke a 19-year winless streak for Madrid at Riazor Stadium, fuelling hopes they are
    finding title-winning form.

    Jose Maria "Guti'' Gutierrez in particular earned plaudits for his performance, despite having been sidelined for much of the first half of the season following a run-in with coach Manuel Pellegrini.

    Last weekend his confident extravagant backheel set up a goal for Karim Benzema against Deportivo, and the 33-year-old midfielder seems to be back in favour.

    Madrid host Espanyol who are currently sitting in 14th spot while 7th seed Getafe visit champions Barcelona.

    In-form

    "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.

    Madrid will be missing Ronaldo in attack however, as the winger 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.''

    Barca wary

    League champions Barcelona will seek to extend their 20-game unbeaten run when they host Getafe.

    However, they will be wary of a Getafe team who have avoided defeat in their
    last two visits to the Camp Nou.

    Although Pep Guardiola's team are out of the Copa del Rey, they are enjoying an excellent run in both attack and defence. In their last five league and cup games, Barcelona have scored 14 goals without conceding.

    Barcelona have played down Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal drought as they continue their title drive.

    The Sweden striker hit the ground running after moving from Inter Milan in the close season, quickly notching 11 league goals.

    Ibrahimovic, though, has only found the net once in their last nine matches in all competitions.

    "He's already scored a load of goals in the league so it's no problem if he goes a few games without scoring," team mate Seydou Keita said.

    Liga fixtures

    Saturday February 6

     Barcelona v Getafe
     Real Madrid v Espanyol
     Valencia v Valladolid

    Sunday February 7

     Almeria v Sporting Gijon
     Athletic Bilbao v Xerez
     Malaga v Deportivo
     Mallorca v Villarreal
     Osasuna v Tenerife
     Racing v Atletico Madrid
     Real Zaragoza v Sevilla

    "If he doesn't score there are others who will because we are a team so we aren't worried."

    Ibrahimovic has said he expects more from himself but coach Pep Guardiola and his squad have praised the towering frontman for his contribution and the way he brings others into the game.

    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.''

    Valencia are eight points adrift of Real in third spot and host Real Valladolid on Saturday.

    Two new coaches take the stage after sackings early in the week with Onesimo Sanchez stepping up at 17th-placed Valladolid and Juan Carlos Garrido replacing Ernesto Valverde at Villarreal (10th).

    SOURCE: Agencies


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