Five straight league victories
and a slump for leaders Barcelona have raised Real Madrid's hopes that the tide
is finally turning in their favour.
Real produced a storming, if ultimately futile, 4-0 victory over Real Zaragoza
in the King's Cup on Tuesday after losing the first leg 6-1, and they will take
that spirit into this weekend's match against Alaves.
"We've proved that we are a competitive team and we are now more united too,"
Brazilian full back Roberto Carlos told Marca on Thursday. "We are a stronger
and more dangerous side.
"From now on we know what sort of attitude we've got to have. We can be up there
fighting to win both the league and the Champions League and if we play like we
did against Zaragoza I'm sure we'll win one of them.
"The title race has become very interesting because Barcelona have let slip an
important advantage. We are now up there in the frame and there are plenty of
points to play for."
Real, without a trophy for three years, made an awesome start at the Bernabeu,
firing three goals in the first 10 minutes as they attempted to claw back the
Roberto Carlos scored a fourth on the hour, but although they laid siege to the
Zaragoza area for the rest of the game they were unable to get the all-important
fifth that would have sent them through to the Cup final.
With one eye on next week's Champions League knockout tie against Arsenal, Real,
who are seven points adrift of Barca in third spot in the standings, are likely
to rest several players against Alaves.
Defenders Cicinho and Jonathan Woodgate and midfielder Zinedine Zidane are
favourites to sit it out along with suspended midfielder Thomas Gravesen.
After spending much of the season in the relegation zone Alaves have hauled
themselves up to 15th place in the table having lost just once in their last
But the Basque side were plunged into chaos on Thursday when outspoken club
president Dimitry Piterman sacked coach Juan Carlos Oliva after just a month at
Only two weeks ago Barcelona were 12 points clear at the top of the table, but
successive defeats against Atletico Madrid and second-placed Valencia have cut
the gap to six.
This Saturday the champions face a tricky fixture at home to struggling Real
Betis who have lost two in a row and are desperate for points to stave off the
threat of relegation.
"We have to play well against Betis because three very important points are at
stake and a victory would give us a big boost ahead of the Chelsea match,"
Brazilian full back Silvinho told a news conference this week.
The Catalans, who play Cheslea in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge next
Wednesday, will be boosted by the return of Ronaldinho, who missed both defeats
through suspension, and Portugal midfielder Deco.
Argentine teenage sensation Lionel Messi and French winger Ludovic Giuly are
both injured, while defenders Carles Puyol and Juliano Belletti are doubtful
after pulling up in training.
Buoyed by their 1-0 victory over Barca last week, Valencia can keep the pressure
on the leaders by extending their unbeaten run to 13 matches when they travel to
San Sebastian to play Real Sociedad on Sunday.