Real's vulnerable defence faces test at home specialists Athletic
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid have returned to the top of La Liga but need to halt their recent trend of leaking goals in games if they want to stay there in Saturday's trip to Athletic Bilbao, who have the second best home record in the Spanish top flight.
Zinedine Zidane's side have conceded 10 times in their last six games in all competitions, falling behind in five of those, and are increasingly relying on late escape acts to get them out of trouble.
Sergio Ramos came to their rescue in Sunday's laboured 2-1 win over Real Betis with an 81st minute winner, while Alvaro Morata and Cristiano Ronaldo scored late against Villarreal and Las Palmas, salvaging a 3-2 win and 3-3 draw respectively.
Real leapfrogged rivals Barcelona at the league's summit after the Catalans' shock 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna and enjoy a two-point lead as well as having a game in hand in their pursuit of a first title win since 2012, although their defence is still vulnerable.
The spotlight has fallen particularly on goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who scored an embarrassing own goal against Betis and was fortunate not to be sent off, adding to costly mistakes against Las Palmas and in their 2-1 defeat to Valencia.
Real have won one of three visits to Athletic's new San Mames stadium, which opened in 2013, and the Basques have hit form, winning their last four league home games and beating local rivals Real Sociedad 2-0 in their last outing.
"We're playing well, we are very confident and the derby win gave us an extra boost. We want to keep up our great run at home and the fact we're playing Real Madrid makes us even more motivated," Athletic midfielder Benat Etxebarria told reporters.
Athletic have only lost one home game in all competitions, to champions Barcelona in August, and are set to welcome back top scorer Aritz Aduriz to the starting line-up for the first time in over a month after the veteran recovered from injury.
Barca host Valencia looking for a response from their surprise defeat to Deportivo, which came four days after their sensational 6-1 win over Paris St Germain in the Champions League. Barca are also set to welcome back Neymar, the hero of their amazing second leg comeback, after a thigh problem.
Sevilla are third in the standings, having slipped five points behind Real with two consecutive draws. Their promising season further unravelled on Tuesday with a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City and elimination from the Champions League.
Jorge Sampaoli's side visit Atletico Madrid, who are fourth in the standings and can cut the distance with Sevilla down to two points with a win.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)