LaLiga: Real Madrid may need supporting cast to help pressure leader Barca

Real Madrid may need its supporting cast to step up against Osasuna and help the reigning champion keep the pressure on LaLiga leader Barcelona, amid doubts over Karim Benzema's fitness.

Victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday against Elche cut Barcelona's advantage to eight points and Madrid could make further inroads on Saturday. With the Catalan club not in action until Sunday against Cadiz after its Europa League draw with Manchester United, Madrid can move within five points of its bitter rival.

Benzema returned from injury to help Real Madrid win the Club World Cup last weekend and then scored two goals from the penalty spot midweek against Elche. The 2022 Ballon d'Or winner has endured a stop-start season because of injury, missing France's World Cup campaign and subsequently retiring from international duty. The 35-year-old striker has only been able to play in 13 of Madrid's 21 league games this season, scoring 11 goals, but reports in Spain suggest he may not make the trip to Pamplona.

Vinicius Junior will return after suspension and along with Rodrygo, Marco Asensio and Fede Valverde, manager Carlo Ancelotti has plenty of attacking options if Benzema is kept in cotton wool ahead of Madrid's Champions League clash against Liverpool next week. Benzema returned from a thigh injury to score against Al-Hilal in the Club World Cup final in Morocco, then moved up to 230 La Liga goals against Elche, making him the fifth highest goalscorer of all time in the Spanish top-flight. Madrid played Al Ahly in the semifinals without Benzema and won 4-1, with Vinicius, Valverde, Rodrygo and young forward Sergio Arribas all scoring.

"For me [Rodrygo] is a complete player, he can play in any position in the attack, on the left, on the right, through the middle," Ancelotti said. "He's different to Vinicius ... but he is as strong as 'Vini' at taking players on one-on-one. The lucky thing for us is that we have both of them."

Vinicius shone at the Club World Cup, winning the player of the tournament award, a welcome respite from his troubles in La Liga. In his previous league appearance, he was fouled 10 times during a 1-0 defeat by Mallorca, with defenders constantly hounding him and Osasuna may offer similar treatment.

If Benzema does not play, despite the array of attacking options Madrid has, the hosts will fancy its chances of causing an upset, particularly with Madrid's impending trip to Anfield looming. Osasuna, ninth, is without a win in four games in La Liga, but its supporters tend to whip up ferocious atmospheres as it does battle with the league's giants.

Player to watch: Jan Oblak

Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalkeeper has not been at his best this season, but Oblak made a string of brilliant saves last weekend to earn his team a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo. Athletic Bilbao visit the Metropolitano on Sunday in a tough test and Oblak could be key again.

Saturday: Real Sociedad vs Celta Vigo, Real Betis vs Valladolid, Mallorca vs Villarreal, Osasuna vs Real Madrid
Sunday: Elche vs Espanyol, Rayo Vallecano vs Sevilla, Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona vs Cadiz
Monday: Getafe vs Valencia


© Agence France-Presse

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications