MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo insists Real Madrid can still catch La Liga leaders Barcelona if they can overcome their hoodoo against local rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Real trail Atletico by a point and are nine adrift of Barca with just 13 games remaining, but can move up to second place should they beat Diego Simeone’s men for the first time in six league games.
“It is a game we need to win,” Ronaldo told Madrid’s website.
“It is an important game at home, in front of our fans and against a very strong team that defends well.
“We know that [winning]La Liga will be difficult, but we need to fight until the end. Football is box full of surprises and anything can happen.”
Real are expected to once again be without Gareth Bale as the calf injury that was initially expected to keep the Welsh star out for three weeks in mid-January drags on.
Karim Benzema is likely to return having missed the 1-1 draw at Malaga last weekend, whilst James Rodriguez could start after being left on the bench by Zinedine Zidane at La Rosaleda.
Zidane’s record at the Bernabeu since taking over has been impeccable with four wins and 20 goals from four games.
However, Atletico’s rock-solid defense will pose a much more difficult obstacle to break down.
Simeone’s men recorded their 24th clean sheet in 38 games this season in a 0-0 draw at PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League in midweek.
However, goals at the other end of the field has been the major problem for Atletico with just one in their last three games.
“The goal will come. We need to keep going and, if we have to be patient, I’ll be the first to wait,” said Simeone.
Stefan Savic misses out through injury, so Jose Maria Gimenez will come into the Atletico defense.
Meanwhile, Fernando Torres is likely to earn a recall to the starting line-up unless Yannick Carrasco recovers in time from an ankle ligament injury.
Barca can maintain their stranglehold on the title race when Sevilla visit the Camp Nou on Sunday.
The Andalusians’ charge for a top-four finish has been maintained by their brilliant home form as they still haven’t won away in the league all season.
That run seems highly unlikely to chance as Barca seek to extend a 33-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
However, the last time the European champions tasted defeat it was to Sevilla in October.
“Stats are there to be broken,” said Barca’s top scorer Luis Suarez.
“We are dedicated to playing well and getting good results.”
With three La Liga games to come in seven days, Barca boss Luis Enrique is likely to rotate with the likes of Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto in line to start.
Similarly with Sevilla aiming to catch Villarreal, who they trail by eight points, in fourth, coach Unai Emery may prioritize more winnable clashes with Eibar and Getafe in the next week.
However, Villarreal are strong favorites to stretch their commanding lead over the Europa League holders to 11 points when they host Levante on Sunday.
Gary Neville’s upturn in fortunes as Valencia boss continued with a 4-0 win over Rapid Vienna on Thursday to seal a remarkable 10-0 aggregate win and a fourth consecutive victory in all competitions.
With fears of being dragged into a relegation battle eased, Valencia could even challenge for a Europa League place should they continue their momentum at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.