Valencia trip offers Real Madrid chance to extend lead

Madrid, Feb 21 (IANS) Real Madrid will play one of the two games they currently have in hand over their rivals for the La Liga football title when they travel to play Valencia away in the Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday.

Madrid will travel with a one-point lead over FC Barcelona and on the back of a comfortable 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday afternoon in which coach Zinedine Zidane was able to rest players such as Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos, reports Xinhua news agency.

Ramos was suffering from a minor muscle problem but will be fit for the game in Mestalla and will probably replace Pepe in the starting 11, while Marcelo will also be back in the side after Nacho Fernandez suffered a muscle injury at the weekend.

Gareth Bale returned against Espanyol after 88 days out recovering from an ankle operation and was able to celebrate his recovery with Madrid’s second goal of the game as he played his first 20 minutes football in almost 3 months.

The Welshman said afterwards he still needed time to be back to his best and he can expect to play another 30-45 minutes on Wednesday night.

The Valencia game was originally to be played on December 18, but was postponed due to Real Madrid participating in the World Club Championships and there is a feeling the delay has been more of a benefit to Valencia than the league leaders.

Before the end of 2016, Valencia were struggling for form and confidence under former Italy boss Cesare Prandelli. But since the Italian’s resignation at the end of the year and his replacement by Voro Gonzalez, Valencia’s performances have improved noticeably and last Sunday’s 2-0 win over Athletic Club Bilbao lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Madrid will travel full of confidence and with several fresh pairs of legs in their side, but they will face a rival that looks a lot tougher to beat than they would have been two months earlier.

–IANS

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