La Liga Preview: Madrid faces Eibar challenge

After Gareth Bale lost his head and Madrid its La Liga lead in a 3-3 draw with Las Palmas on Wednesday, an uncomfortable trip to Eibar's 6,200-capacity Ipurua stadium was probably the last thing on its wish list.

Zidane's men will be confronted by an Eibar side launching the most unlikely challenge for a place in Europe next season.   -  REUTERS

Pedro Leon was mocked by Jose Mourinho for not being Zinedine Zidane when at Real Madrid. Now the in-form Eibar winger could deal a huge blow to Zidane's hopes of landing the La Liga title.

After Gareth Bale lost his head and Madrid its La Liga lead in a 3-3 draw with Las Palmas on Wednesday, an uncomfortable trip to Eibar's 6,200-capacity Ipurua stadium on Saturday was probably the last thing on its wish list.

"Whenever I came here as a visiting player I knew that Ipurua was a difficult place to come given how the fans and the team get on top of you," Leon told reporters.

"Let's hope that's how things go on Saturday and that they don't feel comfortable here."

Zidane's men will be confronted by an Eibar side launching the most unlikely challenge for a place in Europe next season.

Leon's ninth goal of the season deep into stoppage time salvaged a 2-2 draw for Eibar at Real Sociedad on Tuesday to keep the tiny Basque club with the second lowest budget in La Liga in seventh, just three points off a Europa League place.

"We have been very consistent all year," added 30-year-old Leon. "We are having a great season and hopefully we don't drop off between now and the end of the campaign."

Madrid has already suffered at the hands of Eibar this season in a 1-1 draw at Real's Santiago Bernabeu in October.

It was the first point and first goal Eibar had scored against Real since being promoted to the Spanish top flight for the first time in 2014.

Belittled by Mourinho

Despite Madrid's colossal 631.3 million euro ($665 million) budget dwarfing Eibar's 43 million euros, Leon believes his side can prove David to Real's Goliath and beat the 11-time European champions for the first time.

"They have weapons at their disposal which are beyond us with our budget, but in these games you forget all about that. It's really special when you beat such an outstanding side."

Eibar may also be catching Madrid at the right time.

Bale will be suspended after the first red card of his Real career in midweek as Madrid fell a point behind Barcelona at the top of the table.

Madrid battled back from 3-1 down with 10 men thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's double.

However, the side has now conceded seven times in their last three outings and Zidane recognised his side must improve on its first-half displays to avoid always needing to bail itself out late on.

Leon knows all about the demands of being a Madrid player after he was ostracised by Mourinho during his one season at the Bernabeu in 2010/11.

"You talk of Pedro Leon as if he was Zidane or Maradona or di Stefano. He was playing for Getafe two days ago," then-Real boss Mourinho angrily responded when pressed on Leon's lack of first-team opportunities.

Leon expects a reaction from Madrid's Galacticos.

"We must recognise that they're the favourites because they're one of the best sides in the world," he said.

"We know that for Madrid only winning is acceptable, and even more so at home. Yesterday (Wednesday) wasn't a good day for them, but we know that Madrid on a bad day can still easily beat you. They will come here to take the three points."

Fixtures

Friday

Real Betis v Real Sociedad

Saturday

Leganes v Granada, Eibar v Real Madrid, Villarreal v Espanyol, Barcelona v Celta Vigo

Sunday

Sporting Gijon v Deportivo la Coruna, Atletico Madrid v Valencia, Las Palmas v Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao v Malaga

Monday

Alaves v Sevilla

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