Real's vulnerable defense faces test at home specialists Athletic
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[March 16, 2017]
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid have
returned to the top of La Liga but need to halt their recent trend
of leaking goals in games if they want to stay there in Saturday's
trip to Athletic Bilbao, who have the second best home record in the
Spanish top flight.
Zinedine Zidane's side have conceded 10 times in their last six
games in all competitions, falling behind in five of those, and are
increasingly relying on late escape acts to get them out of trouble.
Sergio Ramos came to their rescue in Sunday's labored 2-1 win over
Real Betis with an 81st minute winner, while Alvaro Morata and
Cristiano Ronaldo scored late against Villarreal and Las Palmas,
salvaging a 3-2 win and 3-3 draw respectively.
Real leapfrogged rivals Barcelona at the league's summit after the
Catalans' shock 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna and enjoy a
two-point lead as well as having a game in hand in their pursuit of
a first title win since 2012, although their defense is still
The spotlight has fallen particularly on goalkeeper Keylor Navas,
who scored an embarrassing own goal against Betis and was fortunate
not to be sent off, adding to costly mistakes against Las Palmas and
in their 2-1 defeat to Valencia.
Real have won one of three visits to Athletic's new San Mames
stadium, which opened in 2013, and the Basques have hit form,
winning their last four league home games and beating local rivals
Real Sociedad 2-0 in their last outing.
"We're playing well, we are very confident and the derby win gave us
an extra boost. We want to keep up our great run at home and the
fact we're playing Real Madrid makes us even more motivated,"
Athletic midfielder Benat Etxebarria told reporters.
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Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi
Athletic have only lost one home game in all competitions, to
champions Barcelona in August, and are set to welcome back top
scorer Aritz Aduriz to the starting line-up for the first time in
over a month after the veteran recovered from injury.
Barca host Valencia looking for a response from their surprise
defeat to Deportivo, which came four days after their sensational
6-1 win over Paris St Germain in the Champions League. Barca are
also set to welcome back Neymar, the hero of their amazing second
leg comeback, after a thigh problem.
Sevilla are third in the standings, having slipped five points
behind Real with two consecutive draws. Their promising season
further unraveled on Tuesday with a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City and
elimination from the Champions League.
Jorge Sampaoli's side visit Atletico Madrid, who are fourth in the
standings and can cut the distance with Sevilla down to two points
with a win.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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