Real Madrid looks to Bale for goals against Real Sociedad
MADRID (AP) — The onus has centered on Gareth Bale to lead Real Madrid’s strikeforce in the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, when Real Sociedad visits in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Ronaldo was suspended for two games on Wednesday for lashing out with a kick and punch against Cordoba last weekend.
Also, Barcelona needs to win against a hard-charging Villarreal on Sunday if it is to stay on Madrid’s tail.
Defending champion Atletico Madrid travels to the tiny 5,000-seat Ipurua town stadium, where promoted Eibar has been enjoying a successful first season.
Here are some things to know about this weekend’s matches:
BALE’S MOMENT: Without Ronaldo around, Bale has a chance to earn a little more of the spotlight. The attacking midfielder has scored in the last three Spanish league games, and in Real Madrid’s last seven wins. He has also scored in his last two games against Real Sociedad.
He might get some help from recent signing Lucas Silva, whom coach Carlo Ancelotti said was in good enough shape to be given “some minutes if possible.”
Ancelotti added he also picked Asier Illarramendi, the rarely seen midfielder who was not for sale: “He has always shown reliability and professionalism,” the coach said.
Madrid is unbeaten in its last 12 home matches, a run that includes 11 wins.
MOYES AIMS FOR DOUBLE: Sociedad coach David Moyes’ strategy of defending tightly and breaking out on swift counterattacks paid rich dividends with a win against Barcelona on Jan. 4.
A victory against Madrid would make a remarkable double for the former Manchester United and Everton coach, giving 11th-place Sociedad a massive confidence boost and lending credibility to Moyes’ tactics.
“We’ve always been effective against big teams, they respect us,” Sociedad midfielder Esteban Granero said. “If the best Real Madrid meets the best Real Sociedad, we’ve got a chance of winning.”
Before Moyes arrived, Sociedad overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Madrid 4-2 at home in late August.
Ancelotti didn’t expect the same fate on Saturday: “This is another Madrid compared with the one that played in that match,” he said.
MESSI MARKSMANSHIP: Having emerged victorious 3-2 from a bruising Copa del Rey clash at Atletico, Barcelona faces little respite from Villarreal.
Despite its attacking might, Barcelona managed only a 1-0 win against Villarreal in their last league encounter, and Villarreal has risen to sixth in the standings.
Villarreal is unbeaten in its last 16 matches in all competitions in a run going back to early November, although the last time it won at the Camp Nou was in March 2008.
If Lionel Messi continues his marksmanship at home, he will have scored in eight successive matches at the Camp Nou — another personal record.
BRUISED ATLETICO: Atletico fans saw an unusual sight after their team’s midweek loss to Barcelona — a despondent coach Diego Simeone.
The Spanish champion travels to Eibar after that crushing Copa quarterfinal exit. Atletico finished with nine men after captain Gabi Fernandez and midfielder Mario Suarez were sent off. The implosion could have been worse had the normally even-tempered Arda Turan been red-carded for throwing a boot at a linesman.
Atletico needs to stay focused against eighth-place Eibar on Saturday because it is four points adrift of leader Madrid, which has a game in hand.