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Barcelona La Liga Lead Worries Madrid

Real Madrid may need their supporting cast to step up against Osasuna and help the champions keep the pressure on La Liga leaders Barcelona, amid doubts over Karim Benzema’s fitness.

Victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday against Elche cut Barcelona’s lead to eight points and Madrid could make further inroads on Saturday.

With the Catalans not in action until Sunday against Cadiz after their Europa League draw with Manchester United, Madrid can move to within five points of the leaders.

French forward Benzema returned from injury to help Real Madrid win the Club World Cup last weekend and then netted a brace from the penalty spot midweek against Elche.

Ballon d’Or holder Benzema has endured a stop-start season because of injury, missing France’s World Cup campaign and subsequently retiring from international duty.

The 35-year-old striker has only been able to play in 13 of Madrid’s 21 league games this season, scoring 11 goals, but reports in Spain suggest he may not make the trip to Pamplona.

Vinicius Junior will return after suspension and along with Rodrygo, Marcos Asensio and Fede Valverde, coach Carlo Ancelotti has more attacking options if Benzema is kept in cotton wool ahead of Madrid’s Champions League clash with Liverpool next week.

Benzema returned from a thigh problem to score against Al-Hilal in the Club World Cup final in Morocco, then moved on to 230 La Liga goals against Elche, making him the fifth highest goalscorer of all time in the Spanish top flight.

Madrid played Al Ahly in the semi-finals without Benzema and won 4-1, with Vinicius, Valverde, Rodrygo and young forward Sergio Arribas all scoring.

“For me (Rodrygo) is a complete player, he can play in any position in the attack, on the left, on the right, through the middle,” said Ancelotti.

“He’s different to Vinicius … but he is as strong as ‘Vini’ at taking players on one-on-one. The lucky thing for us is that we have both of them.”

Vinicius shone at the Club World Cup, winning the player of the tournament award, a welcome respite from his troubles in La Liga.

In his previous league appearance he was fouled 10 times during a 1-0 defeat by Mallorca, with defenders constantly hounding him and Osasuna may offer similar treatment.

If Benzema does not play, despite the array of attacking options Madrid have, the hosts will fancy their chances of causing an upset, particularly with Madrid’s impending trip to Anfield looming.

Osasuna, ninth, are without a win in four games in La Liga but their supporters tend to whip up ferocious atmospheres as they do battle with the league’s giants.

Player to watch: Jan Oblak
Atletico Madrid’s Slovenian goalkeeper has not been at his best this season but Oblak made a string of brilliant saves last weekend to earn his team a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo. Athletic Bilbao visit the Metropolitano on Sunday in a tough test and Oblak could be key again.

Key stats
5 – Since the World Cup, Real Sociedad’s Alexander Sorloth and Athletic Bilbao’s Oihan Sancet are the division’s top scorers with five goals each

6 – Pedri has netted six league goals for Barcelona this season, matching his total across his first two campaigns.

60 – Girona midfielder Aleix Garcia has created more chances than any other player this season in La Liga

Fixtures (GMT)

Friday

Girona v Almeria (2000)

Saturday

Real Sociedad v Celta Vigo (1300), Real Betis v Valladolid (1515), Mallorca v Villarreal (1730), Osasuna v Real Madrid (2000)

Sunday

Elche v Espanyol (1300), Rayo Vallecano v Sevilla (1515), Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao (1830), Barcelona v Cadiz (2000)

Monday

Getafe v Valencia (2000)

AFP

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