BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid hosts Valencia on Saturday aiming to bounce back from its first loss in three months and protect its now diminished lead of the Spanish league.
Madrid had gone unbeaten in 15 games across all competitions, including 12 in the domestic league, until it stumbled at Getafe last round. The 1-0 loss at its humble crosstown rival allowed Sevilla to pull to within five points with one more game to play than the front-runners.
Madrid will face a Valencia team that had gone nine games overall without losing until it was stunned by Espanyol’s two late goals to fall 2-1 at its Mestalla Stadium.
Carlo Ancelotti rested striker Karim Benzema, who leads the league with 15 goals, and Luka Modric for Wednesday’s 3-1 win at Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey. The Madrid coach said that his two stars had both finished the Getafe game with unidentified physical issues.
Ancelotti, who had chastised his players’ lack of effort against Getafe, said he was pleased with their professional attitude at a third-tier opponent in the cup.
“This was not our type of game because it is not possible for your true talent to show,” Ancelotti said about the win. “(But) we showed that we are a team that plays well and today could get down and fight. That is the way it had to be. I repeat: if you don’t fight, you lose.”
Madrid has recovered most of its players from a spate of COVID-19 infections. The club could have Vinícius Júnior back against Valencia after missing his speed when it was bogged down by Getafe.
Second-place Sevilla will next face the improved Getafe on Sunday. Getafe has turned its season around since the arrival of coach Quique Sánchez Flores in October and is unbeaten in six rounds.
Sevilla has four wins and one draw in its last five league games despite missing several players due to injury and coronavirus infections.
Third-place Real Betis will try to deal the first home loss to Rayo Vallecano since its return to the first division.
Rayo boasts the best home record of the league with eight wins and one draw, including a 1-0 win over Barcelona.
Barcelona seeks just its third away win of the season in the league when it visits Granada.
Barcelona has shown some improvement under new coach Xavi Hernández and has risen into fifth place, just one point behind Atlético Madrid in fourth.
Defending champion Atlético faces a tough test at a Villarreal team that has greatly improved in recent weeks. Unai Emery’s Villarreal has won four straight in the league, scoring five goals in each of its last two victories.
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