With its cushion at the top gone, Real Madrid needs wins.
Another setback in the final rounds of the Spanish league could leave the title in the hands of Barcelona, which is carrying all the momentum after the last-minute win against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium over the weekend.
“Our fate is still in our hands,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said Tuesday. “It’s still all up to us. We will keep doing our best to try to win matches. We are not going to change anything.”
Barcelona leads on the head-to-head tiebreaker, but Madrid has a game in hand. Madrid will next face Deportivo La Coruna on Wednesday. Barcelona has a much easier game, against last-place Osasuna at the Camp Nou.
Madrid led 26 of the 33 rounds so far, and was as many as six points ahead of Barcelona. It had been holding on to a three-point advantage for several weeks until finally giving it away with the heart-breaking home loss on Sunday.
“We still only depend on ourselves and we are going to give everything we have to win La Liga,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “The defeat to Barcelona hurt us because of the situation that we had before the game, but there is no time to lament. We have to turn the page and start focusing on the next match.”
It will help Madrid’s confidence that it has beaten Deportivo the last seven times the teams met, including the last three league games in La Coruna. Deportivo defeated Barcelona at home last month, but it has won only once in six games since then. It is 16th in the 20-team standings, eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Ramos won’t be able to play on Wednesday because of the red card he received late in the game against Barcelona. Madrid also won’t be able to count on Gareth Bale, who left Sunday’s game before halftime because of a left calf injury. Raphael Varane is expected to replace Ramos, and either Marco Asensio or Francisco “Isco” Alarcon Marco Asensio will likely play in Bale’s place.
Madrid is trying to win its first league trophy since 2012 and avoid its biggest title drought in the league since the 1980s.
“The pressure remains the same,” Zidane said. “Our only obligation is to give our best and to try to win every match.”
Madrid will have to split its attention between the title race and the semifinals of the Champions League, which will be played in the coming weeks. The second leg against city rival Atletico Madrid will be played just before the league’s second-to-last round.
The team’s game in hand is at Celta Vigo and is likely to be played just before the final round.
Barcelona, already eliminated from the European competition, can fully focus on the Spanish league. The Copa del Rey final against Alaves will only be played after the league has already finished.
“You never know how that is going to affect the teams,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “We can’t pay attention to our rival. We have to be prepared to play our best football and win the matches.”
He said the victory at the Bernabeu lifted the team’s morale after a run of disappointing results.
“It’s obvious that it was important psychologically,” Luis Enrique said. “It gave us a boost of confidence going into the end of the season, but we will need to be very consistent in this final stretch.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS