Madrid counting on midfielders and defenders to keep scoring

MADRID (AP) — With its forwards still yet to produce as expected, Real Madrid will be counting on its midfielders and defenders to keep coming through in attack.

The defending champions’ forwards are scoreless through two games of the Spanish league season. The team opened with a 0-0 draw at Real Sociedad and salvaged a victory at Real Betis last weekend after a late penalty kick converted by defender Sergio Ramos. Midfielder Federico Valverde also scored in the 3-2 comeback win, with the other coming from an own-goal.

“It’s not only for the forwards who have to score, the midfielders and the defenders need to contribute as well,” Valverde said. “That’s our job, too, so Madrid can win.”

The team’s forwards, led by Karim Benzema, had already been criticized after the opening draw against Sociedad, which came just after the club loaned Gareth Bale to Tottenham.

“We have every player available and training well, that’s what matters,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said Tuesday. “We are just starting the season and we want to keep improving. We know that we have to improve and we are working on it.”

Madrid hosts winless Valladolid on Wednesday for its third match of the season. Its game against Getafe, which would have been its first, was postponed because of the team’s participation in the Champions League.

Zidane won’t be able to count on Toni Kroos, one of its midfielders who often contributes with goals. The German player has a muscle injury that is likely to sideline him for about two weeks.

Valverde should get to stay in the starting lineup, along with Casemiro and Luka Modric, who was on the bench on Saturday against Betis.

“It’s a healthy competition (in the midfield), it makes us all improve,” Valverde said. “I learn a lot from them. I take advantage of every advice they give me because they have won a lot already in their careers.”

Zidane said Eden Hazard was ready to make his first start if needed, but he didn’t say if the forward would be in the squad on Wednesday because he hadn’t practiced as much as the other players because of an injury.

SUÁREZ’S ATLÉTICO

Luis Suárez is expected to make his first start with Atlético Madrid on Wednesday at Huesca after impressing off the bench in the 6-1 rout against Granada over the weekend, when the Uruguay striker scored two goals and set up another. His debut came four days after he joined from Barcelona.

Coach Diego Simeone said he doesn’t see a problem in using Suárez and veteran striker Diego Costa in the same lineup.

“They definitely can play together,” he said. “It will depend on the moment, on the situation. What’s important is that we take advantage of the spark that they can provide us.”

Promoted Huesca is winless in its return to the first division.

FATI’S BARCELONA

Barcelona visits unbeaten Celta Vigo on Thursday with the spotlight on youngster Ansu Fati, the 17-year-old forward who scored twice in the team’s 4-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday.

Fati is one of the players touted to take over the scoring role after Suárez’s departure, along with Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé.

Celta is unbeaten so far, with two draws and a win.

Both Barcelona and Atlético Madrid had their first two league matches postponed because of their participation in the Champions League in August.

OTHER MATCHES

Europa League champion Sevilla, which opened with a win after also having its first two matches postponed, hosts Levante on Thursday, while Villarreal hosts winless Alavés on Wednesday.

The match between Granada and Osasuna was postponed because Granada is playing in the qualifying competition for the Europa League.

The fourth round of matches begins on Tuesday with league leader Real Betis playing at Getafe and looking to rebound from the late loss to Madrid, a result that halted its two-game winning streak to start the season under coach Manuel Pellegrini.

The Chilean coach, however, is facing a possible suspension for criticizing the refereeing after the game against Madrid.

Unbeaten Real Sociedad goes for its second victory in a row when it hosts Valencia, which is winless in its last two matches.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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