Soccer: Real need rapid turnaround before United clash

Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:25pm EST
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MADRID (Reuters) - Defeat at Malaga on Saturday has surely dashed any lingering hopes Real Madrid had of defending their La Liga title and they urgently need to find their form before Manchester United's Champions League visit on February 12.

Jose Mourinho's decision to drop goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas for the 3-2 reverse was still sending out shockwaves on Sunday and the defeat had left an "insurmountable" gap to make up on unbeaten leaders Barcelona, according to the Portuguese coach.

Real are 16 points behind Barca after 17 matches and seven adrift of second-placed Atletico Madrid.

When they return from the Christmas break they need to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit at home to Celta Vigo in the last 16 of the King's Cup and elimination would leave the Champions League as the only competition they can realistically hope to win this term.

Mourinho justified benching Casillas by suggesting inexperienced number two Antonio Adan was on better form than the 31-year-old Spain international, a fixture between the posts for more than a decade and hugely popular with the fans.

The sight of Spain's World Cup and European Championship hero watching nervously from the sidelines as Malaga beat Real at home for the first time in almost 30 years will have done little to alter the perception that all is not well off, as well as on, the pitch.

Mourinho dismissed a question about whether he feared for his job after the Malaga reverse which followed last weekend's 2-2 draw at home to Espanyol.

"If I sense that the players have lost their desire I am too honest to continue in a losing battle," he said.

"But the players have desire, they showed they still have desire. They played well enough to win against Espanyol, they played well enough to win today. They didn't have any luck and things turned out badly."   Continued...

Real Madrid's goalkeeper Iker Casillas sits in the bench during their Spanish First Division soccer match against Malaga at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga December 22, 2012. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo