Pellegrini rallies his troops

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MADRID, March 12 – Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini, who is under intense pressure after the club's shattering Champions League exit, desperately needs a La Liga win at lowly Valladolid on Sunday to prevent the axe from falling.

Real, stunned by Lyon in the Champions League last 16 stage, are only ahead of Barcelona on goal difference, and Pellegrini knows that his expensive collection of stars could end up empty-handed for the second successive season.

Barcelona, in Champions League action against VfB Stuttgart next week, have seen a five-point league lead evaporate and have a much tougher test at home to Valencia on Sunday.

The failure of Real’s second generation of ‘Galacticos’ in Europe has put the spotlight firmly on the club this weekend as they come to terms with the disappointment of spending over 250 million euros in the summer only to crash out of the Kings Cup and Champions League.

Madrid sports daily Marca went with the headline: "Goodbye Champions League, Goodbye Pellegrini," and the Chilean coach confessed he was under pressure, although he countered that he had only had six months to turn the club around.

"My future is for the board to decide but I don’t think you can evaluate a huge project like this in six months," said Pellegrini.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas admitted it was humiliating to exit the Champions League at the last 16 stage for the sixth successive season but said Pellegrini had the backing of the players.

"He should be calm. He has the support of all the players in the squad and we are all behind him," said Casillas. "The first to be at fault is the coach, but we, the players are at fault.

"We have to look to the future. Our goal is to recover our self-esteem and that will not be easy against Valladolid."

Valladolid sit third from bottom and will hope Real are affected by the Lyon defeat, however, they could also be subjected to a backlash.

Barcelona have problems of their own after seeing their lead slip with a defeat at Atletico Madrid and a draw against Almeria last weekend.

The treble winners need to get back to their best at home to third-placed Valencia in Sunday’s game at Camp Nou.

Barca are unbeaten at home in the league this season but drew 0-0 at Valencia earlier in the campaign and have been struggling for goals with record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of form and French forward Thierry Henry out of favour.

Barca full back Dani Alves believes his side still have a crucial edge on Real as they won the first game between the two sides 1-0 giving them the superior head-to-head record which would decide the league should the teams finish level on points.

"I don’t consider Real Madrid as league leaders because we still have to play the return game (at the Santiago Bernabeu)," said Alves.

"Without a doubt Barcelona are the favourites for the title and if Real want to be champions they have to show it."

Valencia are well-positioned in third which is their realistic goal as they are a substantial 15 points behind Barcelona and Real.

Sevilla, four points behind Valencia in fourth, are still reeling from their last minute 3-2 loss at Real last weekend and have another difficult game at home to sixth-placed Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday before tackling CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.

Villarreal hoped to be challenging for the Champions League but now the target is the Europa League and even that will be a struggle as they are eight points off the top six at the moment.

Fixtures

Saturday

Getafe v Real Mallorca (1700 GMT), Sporting Gijon v Athletic Bilbao (1900 GMT), Sevilla v Deportivo La Coruna (2100 GMT),

Sunday – all 1600 GMT unless stated

Villarreal v Xerez, Tenerife v Espanyol, Racing Santander v Real Zaragoza, Almeria v Malaga, Barcelona v Valencia (1800 GMT), Valladolid v Real Madrid (2000 GMT)

Monday

Atletico Madrid v Osasuna (2000 GMT)

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