x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Hope still lingers in Madrid

Real Madrid chalk up their fifth win in succession, but still rue the autumnal blip that has put them out of reach of leaders Barcelona

Had it not been for the autumnal blip which cost Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster his job, the Spanish champions would be making a decent fist of defending their title against Barcelona's relentless winning machine. Sunday night saw Real's fifth win in succession, a 1-0 victory over a Deportivo La Coruna, who had threatened the European qualification positions only weeks ago, before a run of defeats against top teams halted their surprise upwards trajectory.

The Real coach Juande Ramos has helped steady a leaky defence, lift confidence and fashioned a winning, if unspectacular, side. Against Deportivo, they went ahead after 39 minutes when Raul flicked a header past Aranzubia from a Lassana Diarra cross for his 213th Primera Liga goal - a league record. Depor were not subservient. Brazilian international Felipe rattled the bar from distance in the 59th minute while the always inventive Juan Carlos Valeron, 33, troubled his former Spain team mate Iker Casillas. Real's keeper, frequently their saviour this season, also saved spectacularly from winger Angel Lafita.

"Anything can happen in football," said winger Arjen Robben of Real's slim title chance. "There are many games left, but we only look at ourselves. We don't think about Barcelona, Sevilla or Valencia." Elsewhere Mallorca, without a league win since October, moved off the bottom after beating Champions League chasing Valencia 3-1 at home, Jurado netting twice and Marti the third while Sevilla, who were joint second before play, lost 2-0 at home to Racing Santander who played for nearly an hour with ten men.