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Real with La Liga mountain to climb

RONALDO-ANCELOTTIMADRID, September 19- Two consecutive defeats have left European champions Real Madrid with a mountain to climb just three games into the La Liga season if they are to catch leaders Barcelona.

Real are six points adrift of the Catalans, who have made a 100 percent start under new boss Luis Enrique, after a 4-2 defeat to Real Sociedad was followed by a 2-1 reverse at home to Atletico Madrid last weekend.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men did at least manage to get back to winning ways in midweek as they thrashed Basel 5-1 in their Champions League opener.

The performance of Colombian James Rodriguez was a particularly positive aspect of that win as he produced his best display since a 75 million euro ($97 million, £59.6 million) move from Monaco after being heavily criticised for his failure to replace the energy and balance offered by the departed Angel di Maria.

Ancelotti accepted the criticism dished out to his side less than four months after sealing the club’s 10th European Cup, hailing the high demands at working at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

However, should they fail to win at Deportivo la Coruna on Saturday, his ability to turn around the situation in La Liga will come under close scrutiny.

Madrid have won only twice in their last nine visits to La Riazor, although they were 2-1 victors in their last outing in Galicia which contributed to Depor’s relegation in the 2012/2013 season.

Deportivo currently sit above Real in the table after winning for the first time this season at Eibar on Monday and will be hoping Barcelona loanee Isaac Cuenca can continue his impressive start to the campaign against his parent club’s old foes.

Real defender Raphael Varane signed a new contract on Thursday, tying him to the club until 2020. However, the Frenchman is likely to start once more on the bench with the return of Dani Carvajal from injury at right-back the only expected change from the win over Basel.

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Things didn’t go so smoothly for Atletico in midweek as they were beaten 3-2 by Olympiakos in Athens to put their chances to qualifying for the last 16 in jeopardy.

However, Diego Simeone’s men can bounce back in style by going to the top of the table on Saturday if they beat Celta Vigo at home.

“We were desperate to start the Champions League with a win, but it wasn’t to be,” Atletico midfielder Koke said on Thursday.

“We have another game on Saturday against Celta and we have to prepare for it with the same desire. We need to be strong at home and win.”
Atletico will have to do without top scorer Mario Mandzukic for a couple of weeks, though, as the Croatian had surgery to repair a broken nose suffered against Olympiakos on Thursday.

Barcelona aren’t in action until Sunday night’s late match as they travel to bottom of the table Levante.

Enrique made nine changes to his side for Wednesday’s unconvincing 1-0 win over APOEL Nicosia to start their Champions League campaign, but Barca have now kept clean sheets in winning their first four games of the season for the first time in their history.

“Everyone ought to feel important within the team,” said defender Dani Alves on Enrique’s intention to consistently rotate his squad.

“He has come in with an interesting proposal, to recover what we had, especially in the intensity with which we work.”

Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta are all likely to return to the starting line-up at the Ciutat de Valencia, whilst Lionel Messi and Neymar will continue to lead the line in attack.

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Fixtures (all times GMT)


Elche v Eibar (1900)


Deportivo la Coruna v Real Madrid (1400), Athletic Bilbao v Granada (1600), Atletico Madrid v Celta Vigo (1800), Espanyol v Malaga (2000)


Real Sociedad v Almeria (1000), Villarreal v Rayo Vallecano (1500), Cordoba v Sevilla (1700), Levante v Barcelona (1900)


Getafe v Valencia (1845)

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