Champions Real Madrid aim to get their La Liga campaign back on track away to city rivals Rayo Vallecano following a dismal start that has seen a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona open up an eight-point lead over them with the season little over a month old.
Many reasons have been offered for the run of just one win in four games, from a demanding pre-season tour to claims that Jose Mourinho has lost control of the dressing room. But Real did offer the motivation and fight that has been missing domestically to come from behind and beat Champions League opponents Manchester City at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.
Defeat away by Sevilla last weekend, however, means that Real have picked up only four La Liga points so far, and afterwards an angry Mourinho was particularly disappointed with the manner of the defeat, with the players appearing to lack interest.
Sergio Ramos, one of the heavyweights in the Madrid dressing room who has stood up to Mourinho in the past, appeared to be the one to pay the price, as he was dropped against City and Raphael Varane came in to partner Pepe at centre-half.
The pressure on the shoulders of the Portuguese coach would really have increased with a further defeat by City, which looked quite possible at 2-1 down with six minutes to go, but Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo turned the game around.
“We knew that we were not playing well and we didn’t need the trainer to tell us that,” said defender Alvaro Arbeloa. “There is a very good relationship in the dressing room and we are in agreement with the coach. Now after that important win [against City] we need to keep going.”
Most of the question marks at the start of the season were over how Barca would be able to overturn Madrid with their new coach Tito Vilanova, but with Messi leading the way they have made a storming start with four straight wins in the league, and now play Granada at the Camp Nou.
Messi also proved his value on the European stage with two late goals as Barca too had to come from behind to beat Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.
The main concern for Vilanova is the number of players missing from the defence, with Gerard Pique adding to the list against Spartak, which saw Alex Song come on to partner Javier Mascherano at the back. Carles Puyol and Jordi Alba were also out, along with long-term absentee Eric Abidal.
The off-field problems concerning Malaga have not affected their start to the season and they sit behind Barcelona on 10 points, with Athletic Bilbao their next opponents.
Real’s conquerors last weekend, Sevilla, now travel away to Deportivo la Coruna, while Mallorca, who have also made a strong start, have a tough match with the visit of Valencia.