Barcelona and Real scrap for revival
October 19 2018 09:08 PM
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Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale (centre), Marcelo and Karim Benzema (right) attend a training session at the Valdebebas training ground in Madrid yesterday. (AFP)

AFP/Madrid

Real Madrid and Barcelona cannot avoid heading into next week’s Clasico under pressure but each have two games to lift the mood at least, ahead of the pivotal clash at the Camp Nou. Eight games into La Liga and both Julen Lopetegui and Ernesto Valverde are feeling the heat, forced to defend poor runs that have seen their teams manage a combined total of two wins from their last 10 games. 
Madrid’s slump feels the more entrenched, given they are without a goal in 360 minutes, discounting injury time, and three of their last four matches have ended in defeat. While Barca can point to their riveting win at Wembley over Tottenham, and then a point gained in Valencia, Madrid have endured successive setbacks away to CSKA Moscow and Alaves.
They have two home games to clear the fog, and winnable ones too, against Levante in La Liga today before Viktoria Plzen visit on Tuesday in the Champions League. A pair of victories, and just as importantly, some goals, would earn Lopetegui much-needed breathing space.
He is already being asked about his future in the same job he sacrificed Spain and the World Cup for in June. “I feel good, I’m Real Madrid coach, the pressure is at the maximum,” Lopetegui said yesterday.
Asked if he feels he has the support of the club, Lopetegui said he was “absolutely calm” and added: “You have to live with all these ups and downs in a season knowing that we are where a team can reach any heights and the only recipe is to work, to keep going and to believe. “We are focused only on the game tomorrow,” he said. “We know that this season there are questions for all teams. How the season will play out, nobody knows. We need to win on the pitch.”
 The Real coach said he had almost all his squad fit with the recovery of the injured Isco, Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Gareth bale, without indicating if any would play against Levante.
Seven games without a goal have seen calls grow louder for Mariano Diaz to be given a chance and Lopetegui may now be able to oblige, without the unwanted dig at Benzema’s confidence. Lopetegui is also right to draw comfort from the table, as Barcelona’s stumbles mean his team are only two points off the top, where Sevilla are the surprise frontrunners.
Barca face Sevilla tonight in an unexpected duel of first and second, where the onus will be on Valverde’s men to make a statement. Sevilla have won four league games on the bounce and, in one of those, thumped Real Madrid 3-0. They also continue a run of blockbuster ties for Barca, which has already included Spurs and Valencia, and will stretch deep into November. After Sevilla, they play at home to Inter Milan on Wednesday and Real Madrid next Sunday. At the start of next month, they face Inter again in Italy, Atletico Madrid and Real Betis. A win this weekend and Barcelona might feel a corner has been turned.  Level with the Catalans are Atletico Madrid, whose resurgence after a slow start is already in full swing. Atletico visit struggling Villarreal today, looking to make it eight games unbeaten. 
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Today: Real Madrid v Levante (1100), Valencia v Leganes (1415), Villarreal v Atletico Madrid (1630), Barcelona v Sevilla (1845)
Tomorrow: Rayo Vallecano v Getafe (1000), Eibar v Athletic Bilbao (1415), Huesca v Espanyol (1630), Real Betis v Real Valladolid (1845)
On Monday: Real Sociedad v Girona (1900)



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