Just days before Paris Saint-Germain touch down in the Spanish capital, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid have the chance to boost their fragile confidence when they face Real Sociedad in La Liga on Saturday.
The reigning European champions have been shipping a worrying number of goals in the build-up to their Champions League last-16 showdown with the likes of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe.
Zidane’s side have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight outings, and they could pay a heavy price for any goals conceded against the French giants in next Wednesday’s match at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“It shows that we need to work even harder. That’s football — whoever your opponents they are there to make things difficult for you,” said Zidane after last week’s disappointing 2-2 draw at Levante.
That result left Madrid fourth in the table, a point behind Valencia in third but with a game in hand.
Real Sociedad lie in the lower half of the table but they score goals for fun — witness a 5-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna last weekend.
They also have one of the worst defensive records in Spain, so Cristiano Ronaldo — who turned 33 this week — will hope to fill his boots along with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Zidane’s side are still 19 points behind leaders Barcelona, who remain unbeaten, but the Frenchman refuses to completely give up on a successful La Liga title defence, publicly at least.
“I am always going to say that the league is not over. There are a lot of points to play for, but we dropped two in a game we were controlling,” he said of last week’s game, when Levante twice came from behind to draw.
“We needed to make it three straight wins and we couldn’t do it.”
Barcelona have what looks like a straightforward home meeting with mid-table Getafe on Sunday, fresh from securing their place in the Copa del Rey final by beating Valencia on Thursday.
The Catalans do not face Chelsea in their Champions League last-16 tie until February 20 so can focus on further consolidating their nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the summit of La Liga.
Atletico visit bottom club Malaga on Saturday, while third-placed Valencia host local rivals Levante on Sunday having suffered six consecutive losses in all competitions.
Man to watch: Clarence Seedorf
The former Dutch international, and ex-Real Madrid midfielder, Clarence Seedorf, will take charge of Deportivo for the first time when they take on Real Betis at Riazor on Monday.
Seedorf was appointed by the Galician side at the beginning of this week after Cristobal Parralo was sacked in the wake of the 5-0 defeat at Anoeta that left the club in the relegation zone.
Seedorf, 41, is Depor’s third coach of the season — he has only had two previous short and unsuccessful spells as a coach, at AC Milan in 2014 and then at Shenzhen in the Chinese second division from July to December 2016.
There has been scepticism about his appointment, but Seedorf believes a certain rookie coach in La Liga has shown the way to go.
“You need to believe in young people, in the new generation. Zidane is an example. He might have had less experience than me when he started at Madrid and look what he has done,” he said at his unveiling.