With Ronaldo missing, Madrid look for Bale out

The onus has centered on Gareth Bale to lead Real Madrid’s strikeforce in the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, when Real Sociedad visit in the Spanish league on Saturday. Ronaldo was suspended for two games on Wednesday for lashing out with a kick and punch against Cordoba last weekend.

Also, Barcelona need to win against a Villarreal on Sunday if it is to stay on Madrid’s tail. Defending champions Atletico Madrid travel to the tiny 5,000-seat Ipurua town stadium, where promoted Eibar have been enjoying a successful first season.

Without Ronaldo around, Bale has a chance to earn a little more of the spotlight. The attacking midfielder has scored in the last three league games, and in Real Madrid’s last seven wins. He has also scored in his last two games against Real Sociedad. Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 home matches, a run that includes 11 wins.

Sociedad coach David Moyes’ strategy of defending tightly and breaking out on swift counterattacks paid rich dividends with a win against Barcelona on January 4. A victory against Madrid would make a remarkable double for the coach, giving Sociedad a massive confidence boost and lending credibility to Moyes’ tactics.

Having emerged victorious 3-2 from a bruising Copa del Rey clash at Atletico, Barcelona face little respite from Villarreal. Despite their attacking might, Barcelona managed only a 1-0 win against Villarreal in their last league encounter, and Villarreal have risen to sixth in the standings. Villarreal are unbeaten in their last 16 matches in all competitions in a run going back to early November, although the last time they won at the Camp Nou was in March 2008.

If Lionel Messi continues his marksmanship at home, he will have scored in eight successive matches at the Camp Nou, another personal record. Atletico travels to Eibar after that crushing Copa quarterfinal exit. Atletico finished with nine men. The implosion could have been worse had the normally even-tempered Arda Turan been red-carded for throwing a boot at a linesman.

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