• Real Madrid seeks end-of-year boost

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    MADRID: Real Madrid host Real Sociedad on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) intent on producing another tub-thumping performance to follow up their historic 10 goals and shore up under-fire Rafael Benitez’s position as coach.

    Real became the first side to reach double figures in a La Liga match in 55 years in their 10-2 dissection of Rayo Vallecano prior to the short Spanish winter break.

    But not even that was enough to deter fans at the Santiago Bernabeu from booing Benitez, whose position remains precarious if reports are to be believed.

    Real closed the gap on league leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to two points, with German midfielder Toni Kroos summing up the end-of-year mood in the Madrid dressing room.

    “We all want to do better, for each other and for our fans,” he told the club’s official website.

    “We’ve failed to be at our best at certain points of the season.

    “We work our socks off on a daily basis and the pay off for that hard work will end up being reflected in the results.

    “I’m positive that we’ll find that consistency that is not only demanded of us by our fans, but that we too yearn for.”

    The World Cup winner begged Real’s supporters to keep the faith.

    “It’s too early to be making evaluations. We are Real Madrid and being successful is part of our DNA.”

    France international defender Raphael Varane, out for the past month with a hamstring injury, could start after returning to full training.

    However, the club on Monday lost their appeal against being kicked out of the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player, with Spain’s Administrative Tribunal for Sport (TAD) insisting the decision was final.

    Barca, who have a game in hand, welcome Real Betis to the Camp Nou with the players planning to show off the five trophies collected in 2015 in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, Champions League, Super Cup and last weekend’s Club World Cup in Japan.

    On Sunday Barca and club superstar Lionel Messi triumphed at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai, taking home the prizes for best team and best player.

    Messi had traveled from Argentina to attend the ceremony.

    “It’s very nice to receive these awards, but I always say that the team makes it possible,” said Messi. “It’s been an extraordinary year.”

    Atletico, second on goal difference, are on the road at Rayo where they will seek to return to winning ways after missing the chance to go top when succumbing 1-0 to Malaga before Christmas, with captain Gabi sent-off.

    Fourth-placed Celta Vigo could end the year in third if Real come unstuck against Sociedad and they see off Athletic Bilbao.

    Elsewhere, newly-appointed Valencia coach Gary Neville faces a momentous four days, with Thursday’s derby at Villarreal followed Sunday by Real’s visit to Valencia’s Me- stalla stadium.

    AFP

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