Soccer: Real coach lauds defensive pair Pepe and Ramos

Thu Jan 16, 2014 8:13am EST
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By Tim Hanlon

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Coach Carlo Ancelotti has singled out center halves Sergio Ramos and Pepe for special praise after lauding Real Madrid's improved defensive performances since the turn of the year.

While leading teams Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have been consistent all season, third-placed Real have been erratic away from home but are only three points off the top as they prepare to visit bottom club Real Betis on Saturday (1500 GMT).

"The year has started well for us but we need to keep battling because at any moment problems can surface. The defense has been doing well and is looking strong," Ancelotti told a news conference.

"Pepe and Ramos are the reason for the improvement that we have had," added the Italian, referring to the fact Real are yet to concede a goal this year.

Real secured a place in the King's Cup quarter-finals by ousting Osasuna on Wednesday and Ancelotti, with next month's Champions League last-16 clash with Schalke 04 also in mind, said his team were going to have to grind out results.

"Now we are at the most difficult point as all the games are very important. We cannot always play fantastic football," he said.

"There will be a lot of games so it isn't straightforward but the team is concentrated, working well and in good spirits."

Real cannot expect any slipups this weekend from Barcelona or Atletico who face mid-table Levante and Sevilla respectively.   Continued...

Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain (L) and Pepe congratulate teammate Sergio Ramos (R) after scoring a goal against Olympique Lyon during their Champions League soccer match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, October 18, 2011. REUTERS/Juan Medina