Real Madrid supporters ready to vent frustration

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Real Madrid players and officials are set for a rough reception from supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Sunday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:50 IST
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Real Madrid players and officials are set for a rough reception from supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Sunday when the star-studded but misfiring team hosts Malaga in the Spanish league. With Madrid almost certain to end the season empty-handed for the second successive year, embattled club president Florentino Perez issued a plea this week on behalf of the players. "I ask fans not to fall into the trap in this strange situation, not to throw stones at their own home. They need to get behind the team and show their support," Perez said yesterday. Yet Perez may find he too is blamed on Sunday for policies which supporters believe have contributed to the team's decline. Star power wanes Perez's critics say his aim of making Madrid soccer's most valuable brand by acquiring a collection of star players has been at the cost of the team's needs on the field. Madrid's defeat last Sunday against lowly Getafe left it 11 points behind leader FC Barcelona with 10 rounds remaining. With Madrid also failing to reach the Champions League quarterfinals four days earlier by losing to Juventus, the team faces the prospect of its worst silverware drought since 1990-92. Even though they have recorded just one win in the last five league games, Madrid players insist they still have a chance of winning the title. "While we still have a mathematical chance we'll be fighting to win the league. We're keen to show people we can do much better," said midfielder Thomas Gravesen, who will miss Sunday's game through suspension. Back in the team Madrid has encouraging news on the injury front. Ronaldo has recovered from a left thigh strain and will be available. David Beckham, who missed the Getafe defeat through suspension, is expected to play after recovering from back trouble, while right back Michel Salgado looks set to return after four weeks' absence with a left knee injury. Barcelona advances Meanwhile, Barcelona is trying to quell euphoria as it moves closer to its first league title since 1999. "If we could play our final 10 games on consecutive days we would. But we need to have a bit of patience. The league is so near but we still haven't won it yet," Barcelona midfielder Deco said. Barcelona, which has 65 points from 28 games, needs another 16 points to set the highest total since the 1997-98 season - when Spain's league became a 20-team division under the three-points-for-a-win system. Barcelona visits improving Deportivo on Saturday and will be aiming for the first of seven wins which would ensure a triumph. However, La Coruna is not a happy hunting ground for Barcelona. It has only won twice in its last 10 league visits. "Deportivo is a good team which for much of the season has carried the burden of a bad start," Barcelona midfielder Demetrio Albertini said. "Now it's playing better and is aiming for a Champions League place. "We need to maintain the good attitude we showed against Bilbao (last weekend)." Numbers game Deportivo, which has taken 10 points from its last 12 matches, has joined the scramble for Champions League and UEFA Cup places at the end of the season. Third-place Villarreal and ninth-place Deportivo are separated by just five points, with Espanyol, Real Betis, Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid between them. Villareal doesn't play in the league this weekend because its visit to Osasuna has been postponed due to its UEFA Cup match with Steaua Bucharest on Sunday. Espanyol hosts Real Sociedad, Betis entertains Albacete, Sevill plays at Mallorca, Valencia hosts Getafe and Atletico visits Zaragoza. In this weekend's other 29th-round matches Numancia faces Racing Santander and Athetic Bilbao plays Levante. (AP)