MADRID — Free from European duty this week, a well-rested
Real Madrid heads into this weekend's Spanish league matches looking to
maintain its lead.
The 10-time European champions, who hold a four-point lead
over Barcelona in the league, host Villarreal on Sunday. Madrid beat Villarreal
4-2 and 3-0 the last two times they played at the Santiago Bernabeu, having
lost 4-2 and 3-0 on its last two visits there.
Barcelona will try to stay within range when it visits
Granada on Saturday, while Sevilla hosts third-place Atletico Madrid.
Here are some things to know about this weekend's matches:
MODRIC OR ISCO
Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo both scored in a 2-0 win
the last time Madrid faces Villarreal. Modric has recovered from a hip injury
he sustained while on international duty in November and could be set to return
to the squad.
During his absence, however, Francisco "Isco"
Alarcon has blossomed in the role of creative playmaker.
The 22-year-old Isco received a standing ovation at Elche
last weekend — something very rare in the Spanish league — after helping Madrid
to a 2-0 victory.
"He's playing really well — game in, game out —
bringing a lot of quality and intensity," said Madrid coach Carlo
Ancelotti, who must now choose whether to bench the on-form Spaniard in favor
of the Croatia midfielder.
NEED TO BEAT ATLETICO
Sevilla, the only team in the league with an unbeaten home
record this season, will be aiming to climb up from fifth place when it hosts
Fernando Torres is likely to be kept as a substitute, given
the successful attacking partnership of Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic.
And Griezmann is hungry for goals.
"When I joined, I said I wanted to improve my
statistics, and that's what I'm intent on doing," the 23-year-old France
In the league, Griezmann has scored 10 goals for Atletico
this season with his favored left foot and headed in another four. Last
weekend, he scored twice against Almeria from three attempts.For
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