Real Madrid returns to Spanish league trying to regroup after Champions League scare

Thu, Mar 7, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Real Madrid returns to Spanish league trying to regroup after Champions League scare

MADRID (AP) - Real Madrid turns its focus back to the Spanish league hoping to put behind one of its worst performances of the season.

The league leader hosts Celta Vigo on Sunday, four days after being jeered by the home crowd at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in a match to forget against Leipzig in the Champions League.

Madrid was held to 1-1 and advanced to the quarterfinals thanks only to its 1-0 win in the first leg in Germany.

"We have to accept criticism when it is deserved, and the criticism is deserved," coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "The whistles at the end of the first half were deserved. You need to have a demanding crowd like the one at the Bernabeu because the whistles woke us up at certain times in the second half. Although we're pleased to reach the quarterfinals, we have to be critical and we should've played better."

The lackluster play set off alarms, leaving Ancelotti struggling for answers on how to get the team back on track as soon as possible.

"Maybe I made a mistake in the lineup," he said. "But I wanted to bring more intensity and energy, and we didn't do that. That's where we have to improve and evaluate what we didn't do well."

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Madrid didn't have an attempt on target in the first half against Leipzig. It has drawn four of its last seven matches in all competitions, including three of the last four.

Ancelotti said the team looks tired, and the international break should come in handy for the squad ahead of the decisive period in the Champions League and La Liga.

"We have two games before the break, then we'll have time to relax mentally because the team is tired in this regard," he said. "After the break we'll come back better."

Ancelotti said some of the injured players should be back by then, including goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and central defender Eder Militao, who have been nursing long-term knee injuries. Not available for the next two league matches is Jude Bellingham because of a red-card suspension. The club was trying to appeal the suspension so the England midfielder could be out for only one game.

Madrid has a good cushion over Girona with 11 matches left in the Spanish league.

"We're in a better position than ever because we're seven points clear in the league and we are in the quarterfinals of the Champions League," Ancelotti said. "If I'd been told this at the beginning of the season, I'd have taken it."

OTHER MATCHES

After three losses in its last four matches, Girona hosts mid-table Osasuna on Saturday looking to get back on track and remain safely in the European qualification places. It is nine points ahead of fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao.

Third-placed Barcelona, sitting one point behind Girona, will be without injured midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Pedri when it hosts Mallorca in a rare Friday night game.

Fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, three points behind Barcelona, on Saturday will try to win its second in a row when it visits relegation-threatened Cadiz, which is enduring a 25-match winless run across all competitions.

Athletic visits Las Palmas on Sunday, while Sevilla on Monday travels to last-placed Almeria, the only team yet to win a league match.

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TALES AZZONI Azzoni is a sports reporter based in Madrid in charge of Spain and Portugal for The Associated Press. He has covered multiple World Cups and Olympic Games for the AP, as well as other major sporting events worldwide. twitter mailto "
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