x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Real Madrid need a big favour

Real Madrid's slim title hopes will all but disappear unless Barcelona lose at Sevilla.

Barcelona's Bojan Krkic celebrates after scoring against Tenerife this week.
Barcelona's Bojan Krkic celebrates after scoring against Tenerife this week.

Spain was hit by a freak chill this week, with winter temperatures, strong winds and heavy rains falling just as the beaches are usually starting to fill up. The conditions shaved 30,000 from Barcelona's midweek attendance at home to Tenerife, the 57,000 present huddling for shelter in the largely uncovered stadium.

They witnessed an obdurate and much improved Tenerife side being eventually swept aside. The Canary Islanders had gone in at half-time with the score pegged at 1-1, but Barca improved after Zlatan Ibrahimovic was substituted. Goals from home-grown stars Pedro, Bojan and a second from Lionel Messi brought a 4-1 victory. More than 70 per cent of Barca's goals this season have come from players who progressed through the club's youth system, though three of those against Tenerife were set up by Daniel Alves, who made his 100th Barca appearance since signing from Sevilla in 2008.

Leading Real Madrid by one point, Barca face a tough game tonight at Sevilla, who were buoyed by a midweek away victory over Racing Santander, which lifted them above Mallorca into fourth place in the Primera Liga and a Champions League qualifying spot. Sevilla lost 3-0 and 4-0 last season to Barca, though just two teams have managed victory at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium so far this campaign. Madrid will be pinning their hopes on Sevilla holding or beating Barca, as the Catalans' final game is a home banker against lowly Real Valladolid.

The omens are not good for Sevilla, as Messi alone has scored seven times in his seven games against goalkeeper Andres Palop. Messi has 31 league goals to his name - six more than his nearest rival, Argentine compatriot Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid. Higuain's teammate Cristiano Ronaldo lies third in the race for the top goalscorer's award with 25, but with just two league games remaining for Barca and Madrid, Messi remains a clear favourite to win his first Pichichi.

Higuain netted in Real Madrid's impressive midweek 4-1 win at Mallorca, though Ronaldo stole the show with a superb hat-trick. Mallorca played well, as you'd expect from a side with the third-best home record in the league, but Madrid's class, and Ronaldo's in particular, told as they kept in contact with Barca in the table. Time is running out for Madrid, but they remain optimistic and on target for a club record 98 points from a league season, with 30 victories from their 36 games so far - one more than Barcelona.

The Catalans have lost only one game to Madrid's four. Two of those defeats were against Barca, another away to Sevilla. Madrid's only other league defeat came against Athletic Bilbao, who play at the Bernabéu tonight. The Basques are without a win in their last five games and while they frequently make their home a fortress against Madrid, they're habitually weak in the capital. Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini told reporters that: "We feel strong and confident on and off the pitch, but we still don't depend on ourselves, so we have to avoid mistakes and wait for Barca to make some."

The Whites live in hope, but on the form shown by both giants so far this season, either side dropping points is improbable. In fact the only thing likely to change after the freakish cold is the weather. sports@thenational.ae Sevilla v Barcelona, 11pm, Aljazeera Sport +2 & +3 Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao, 11pm, Aljazeera +1