MADRID: Real Madrid got a respite from their critics with a 4-2 win over Monaco in the Champions League on Wednesday but they still need a convincing performance against Sevilla tomorrow to quieten them completely.
The Spanish champions had an eight-point lead at the start of March but could end the month in second place if they get anything less than three points against their visitors.
Sevilla will certainly not be coming to the Spanish capital just to act as Real’s whipping boys.
“Bring on Madrid. They are a tough team in the Bernabeu but we have shown that we can beat them and have an idea what their weaknesses are,” said Sevilla defender Pablo Alfaro.
Real suffered their heaviest defeat of the season in Sevilla when they went down 4-1, and the two teams have also played out two rumbustious King’s Cup semi-final matches.
A highlight of all three matches was Alfaro’s battles with FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane.
“I am sure there are plenty of people who think I should be in Alcala-Meco (a well-known Madrid prison) but I was just doing my job,” said Alfaro.
Alfaro is also in the midst of training to be a surgeon, which has led to plenty of jokes about him practising on opponents, especially those in white shirts which might be mistaken for operating theatre gowns.
The crunching presence of Alfaro is one of the worries for Real coach Carlos Queiroz. He also has to deal with the suspensions of Jose Maria “Guti” Gutierrez and Luis Figo.
Reshuffling his pack out of necessity, Queiroz is expected to use England captain David Beckham on the right wing, bring in Santiago Solari on the left flank and use Ivan Helguera and Borja Fernandez in midfield.
However, Queiroz’s life could be complicated further if Beckham fails to recover from the bruising he received against Monaco.
“I have a dead leg and a dead calf. I am hoping it will be OK for Sunday,” he said.
Real have 61 points from 29 games with Valencia just one point behind, and if Real slip up then their nearest rivals will be hoping to regain top slot with a win at Racing Santander tomorrow.
Valencia coach Rafa Benitez will have to make the trip north though without his Argentine duo of Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala, who are on international duty.
One consolation may be that Racing, currently embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, are one of the few First Division clubs with a worse record in front of their home fans than when they are away.
At the moment, Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard has no worries either at home or away. His team have won nine consecutive games, the second longest winning streak in Barca history, to lift them to third with 55 points and he is looking to take their winning run into double figures at Real Betis tomorrow.
But he knows that he will have to do without his Brazil World Cup winner Ronaldinho. Ronaldinho will be with Brazil ahead of their World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay next Wednesday and Rijkaard is expected to replace him with either Luis Garcia or Luis Enrique Martinez. – AFP