Challengers aim to reduce the gap in LaLiga

Vital: Benzema & Modric will be the key for Real  

Real Sociedad will attempt to halt Real Madrid’s march away from LaLiga’s chasing pack on Saturday in a battle of first against third at the Reale Arena.

Madrid has stormed seven points clear at the top of the table after seven consecutive victories in all competitions, with nine wins and a draw recorded in its last 10.

Clear favourite

Two wins in four days against tough opponents in Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao has seen Madrid emerge as clear favourite in the title race and it remains to be seen now which of those sides beneath it, if any, can keep up.

Real Sociedad was on top only a few weeks ago, but a draw with Valencia and defeat by Espanyol has checked the momentum of Imanol Alguacil’s side, which will be desperate to avoid a third consecutive disappointment on Saturday.

It might take encouragement from Madrid’s performances, which have not been as convincing as the results.

Both Sevilla and Athletic squandered numerous chances at the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Sociedad will believe its attacking talents like Alexander Isak, Mikel Oyarzabal and David Silva can cause problems.

Not luck

“Seven wins out of seven is not luck,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted. “This team has character. When we don’t win with our quality we have other strengths we can use.”

There are also question marks over Madrid’s freshness for this fixture after a demanding couple of weeks during which Ancelotti has continued to stay loyal to a consistent core of players.

Only one or two positions have been rotated and that could leave some of Madrid’s more seasoned veterans — like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro — lacking physical sharpness.

Madrid might also have one eye on next week’s final Champions League group game at home to Inter Milan.

Barca cannot afford to take fifth-placed Real Betis lightly on Saturday, with five points still separating Xavi Hernandez’s team and La Liga’s top four.

Sevilla, meanwhile, in fourth go up against Villarreal in 12th, with Sevilla looking for a morale-boosting victory before it plays away at Salzburg on Wednesday.

Atletico Madrid, the reigning champion, could yet be Real Madrid’s closest challenger in the league after a 4-1 thrashing of Cadiz last weekend offered signs it could be turning a corner.

Atletico host struggling Mallorca on Saturday before a crunch trip to Porto on Tuesday, with a demanding week ending with the Madrid derby at the Santiago Bernabeu next weekend.

The fixtures: Saturday: Sevilla v Villarreal, Barcelona v Real Betis, Atletico Madrid v Mallorca, Real Sociedad v Real Madrid. Sunday: Rayo Vallecano v Espanyol, Elche v Cadiz, Levante v Osasuna, Celta Vigo v Valencia. Monday: Getafe v Athletic Bilbao.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 4:28:46 AM |

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