Real begins crunch month after passing on January transfers

There were no new arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu, with a move for the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga the most notable transfer that didn't happen in La Liga.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Toni Kroos celebrate goal against Valenica

Real Madrid will be hoping that forward Cristiano Ronaldo finds form in its bid to make the top four places and its third Champions League title on the bounce.   -  AFP

 

Zinedine Zidane, whose Real Madrid side go to Levante this weekend, will soon find out if he was right to refuse to add to his squad in the January transfer window.

There were no new arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu, with a move for the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga the most notable transfer that didn't happen in La Liga.

Kepa signed a new long-term contract in Bilbao after Zidane insisted that he did "not need a goalkeeper". Instead he will stick with Keylor Navas, who faces his former club on Saturday.

Madrid appeared to be in a full-blown crisis after they were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Leganes, but they have won their last two games in La Liga, scoring 11 goals in the process.

A 7-1 defeat of Deportivo was followed by a 4-1 win at Valencia last weekend, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored two penalties as Real moved to within two points of third-placed Valencia with a game in hand.

Reigning champion Real Madrid faces a 19-point gap with one game in hand against Barcelona.

"A crisis for Madrid is losing one game but nobody doubts their quality. All the small teams want to go through the crises that they have," said the Levante coach Juan Ramon Lopez Muniz, whose team drew 1-1 at the Bernabeu in September.

Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in two league games, has been struggling with a calf knock. However, he is expected to play as Madrid begin a month that will be shaped by its Champions League last 16, first leg against Paris Saint-Germain on February 14.

Catalan derby

Barcelona, which is 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top, puts its unbeaten league record on the line as it visits Espanyol on Sunday.

Valverde: We have to let Messi breathe a bit

It will be the third Catalan derby in under three weeks, after Barca won 2-1 on aggregate in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.

However, Sunday's game falls awkwardly for Barcelona, in between the two legs of its Cup semifinal against Valencia. Atletico hosts Valencia on Sunday night.

Among the busier clubs in the January window was Sevilla, future Champions League opponent of Manchester United.

It has brought two players back to Spain on loan from England -- midfielder Roque Mesa from Swansea City and Everton striker Sandro Ramirez.

"Sevilla have been interested in me for a year and a half. They knew how much I wanted to be here," said Mesa, who endured a difficult last six months at Swansea.

"In the end our paths were destined to come together. This is a big club," he added as Sevilla face Eibar after drawing 1-1 at Leganes in its Copa del Rey semifinal, first leg.

Player to watch: Inigo Martinez

The 26-year-old Spain international says he is "proud" to become the most expensive signing in Athletic Bilbao's history, after they paid his 32 million-euro (£28 million, $40 million) buyout clause to sign the centre-back from Basque rival Real Sociedad.

Athletic swooped for Martinez after seeing Aymeric Laporte move to Manchester City for a reported £57 million, and he could make his debut for his new club in Girona on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay has hit out at the player, suggesting he should have waited for an offer from "a team that can win the Champions League, or at least get to the semifinals." And fans in San Sebastian will be allowed to exchange Real shirts with Martinez's name on it for another one.

 

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Real Sociedad v Deportivo (2000)

Saturday

Eibar v Sevilla (1200), Betis v Villarreal (1515), Alaves v Celta Vigo (1730), Levante v Real Madrid (1945)

Sunday

Getafe v Leganes (1100), Espanyol v Barcelona (1515), Girona v Athletic Bilbao (1730), Atletico Madrid v Valencia (1945)

Monday

Las Palmas v Malaga (2000)

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