Stuttering Real, Barca face more tough tests
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - The two biggest names in Spanish club soccer will be anxious to put uncharacteristically stuttering starts to the season behind them on Saturday when they face sides that have set them stern tests in the recent past.
Injury-ravaged Real Madrid visit Real Betis, while champions Barcelona welcome back talisman Lionel Messi as they host Deportivo La Coruna.
Real have drawn their last four games in all competitions and for the first time in his nine-month spell in charge of his former team, who he led to the Champions League title last season, coach Zinedine Zidane is facing questions about his abilities as a coach.
On top of the prolonged absence of midfielders Luka Modric and Casemiro, the Frenchman is having to cope without captain Sergio Ramos for six weeks due to a knee injury.
Colombia international James Rodriguez is also a doubt for the trip to Betis, where Zidane dropped his first points as Real coach in a 1-1 draw last January interrupting two big opening wins.
Real midfielder Toni Kroos denied the side were on a downward spiral, but said a return to winning ways would be vital at the weekend to end a first sequence of four straight draws in over a decade.
"I don't think we are on a bad path. There's a good atmosphere in the team and it's not easy to win all the time," the German told a news conference on Thursday.
"Perhaps we have to play more together and give more of ourselves, and we've had three or four important players injured. But that shouldn't be an excuse, and we need to win on Saturday... It's vital in this game we tell everyone 'we're back again'". Continued...