MADRID: Real Madrid will be hoping a change of scenery provides an upturn in fortunes when they travel to Basque minnows Eibar’s 6,000 capacity Ipurua on Sunday (Monday in Manila) aiming to make amends for their 4-0 humiliation by Barcelona.
Club president Florentino Perez insisted he still has full confidence in coach Rafael Benitez despite both being targeted by the Madrid fans with calls to resign last weekend.
That confidence was unlikely to have been assured, though, by a nervous final 15 minutes in Ukraine on Wednesday as Madrid slipped from cruising into a 4-0 lead away to Shakhtar Donetsk to holding on for a 4-3 win.
Benitez made a series of changes in Lviv with Brazilian midfielder Casemiro one of those to come in to add extra bite to the midfield.
And he insists they must look ahead in trying to close the six-point gap to Barca at the top of the table rather than dwelling on the problems on and off the field over the past week.
“The defeat to Barcelona is in the past, we need to look forward. Now we have a tough game away from home,” he said
“I am here for what Benitez tells me to do, he is a great coach. We are with him, with the president and the fans. Staying together I am sure we will win.”
However, Madrid can expect an extremely tricky test against an Eibar side that are surpassing all expectations on just their second season in the top flight and currently sit sixth.
“It is difficult for any team to play at Ipurua. We are playing really well and have the confidence that we can get something positive from the game,” Eibar midfielder Adrian Gonzalez told the club’s website.
Madrid have mounting injury problems in defence as Raphael Varane came off against Shakh¬tar with a hamstring problem, whilst Sergio Ramos and Marcelo are also out.
Isco is banned after his frustrated kick out at Neymar last weekend. However, Eibar are also without one of their key creators through suspension in Keko Gontan.
In contrast to Madrid’s woes, Barcelona’s week just got better after inflicting a thrashing at the Bernabeu as they stuck six past Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Lionel Messi scored twice on his first start following a two-month injury layoff as did Luis Suarez to take Messi, Suarez and Neymar’s combined tally for the calendar year to an incredible 121.
Yet, Barca boss Luis Enrique urged for caution amid claims Barca could go onto repeat their treble winning feats of last season.
“These players are very intelligent and they know perfectly that we are in the first third of the season and the best is still to come.
“It is a pleasure when you have the profile of the players we have and things go as you want. I am sure that at some point it will turn in the other direction and you need to be prepared to overcome all the moments.”
Next in Barca’s firing line are Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
However, Sociedad did make a good start to life under former Barca B coach Eusebio Sacristan with a 2-0 win over Sevilla in their first game since the sacking of David Moyes.
The on-form Sergi Roberto is a doubt for Barca, but Javier Mascherano and Andres Iniesta are expected to return after being left out in midweek.
Atletico Madrid are Barcelona’s closest challengers at the top of the table and Diego Simeone’s men will be confident of holding onto second place when they host Espanyol hoping to extend a nine-game unbeaten run.
Meanwhile, Sevilla and Valencia meet on Sunday night hoping to get their lacklustre seasons going with both coaches Unai Emery and Nuno Espirito Santo’s jobs under pressure.