Stuttering Madrid look for confidence boost against Las Palmas
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid are in the middle of their worst run of results under Zinedine Zidane but have an ideal opportunity to rise from their slump when they host relegation-fighting Las Palmas in La Liga on Sunday.
Real endured successive defeats for the first time since Zidane took charge in January 2016 when they were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday after a dismal defeat at Girona, but their problems pale in comparison to those of their next opponents.
The Canary Island club had Madrid on the ropes in their last visit to the Bernabeu, a thrilling 3-3 draw, but have endured a torrid third campaign in the top flight and are currently 18th in the standings with eight defeats from their 10 games.
The resignation of inexperienced coach Manolo Marquez has not made things any easier for the struggling team, who have lost all four league games under successor Pako Ayesteran, shipping 15 goals in the process.
The team were booed off the pitch by a sparse crowd after their 3-1 home defeat to Deportivo La Coruna last week and in another setback have lost leading striker Jonathan Viera to a hamstring injury.
Their visit should be the perfect tonic for a Madrid side who have looked a shadow of the team that conquered all last season and which made such a convincing start to this campaign by outclassing Barcelona and Manchester United in the Spanish and European Super Cups.
Talisman Cristiano Ronaldo has managed only one goal in the league this season, but perhaps more worrying for Zidane is the team's apparent lack of fighting spirit, which helped Madrid come back so often in 2016-17.
Real are third in the Liga standings and eight points behind leaders Barcelona. They have never won the league after falling that far adrift of the pacesetters.
Ronaldo said after the defeat to Tottenham that Real were missing the experience of departed players Pepe, James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, although he believes they will soon reverse their current drop in form.
"We admit that we aren't playing well but things change. I'm sure we won't be like this for much longer, football allows you to be described as brilliant one day and awful the next, and we need to stay positive," the Portuguese striker told reporters.
Barcelona, who host fifth-placed Sevilla at the Nou Camp on Saturday, have won nine and drawn one in La Liga this season but also had a disappointing week in the Champions League.
They were held to a goalless draw at Olympiakos where they lost Sergi Roberto and Andre Gomes for around a month to injury, leaving them short in midfield, with captain Andres Iniesta also out.
Valencia, who are also unbeaten and four points behind Barca in second spot, host Leganes, while Deportivo La Coruna welcome Atletico Madrid, who are looking to rebound after their woeful Champions League draw with Qarabag which left them on the verge of elimination.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)