Madrid looks to confirm recovery in league play

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MADRID (AP) -Real Madrid's win over Manchester City was just the first hurdle as the Spanish champions return to league play looking to confirm their recovery from a poor start to the season.

Madrid's memorable 3-2 victory over City on Tuesday certainly provided a morale-boost for a team in disarray domestically, already eight points behind Spanish leader Barcelona after only four games.

Madrid has a short trip across town Sunday to upstart Rayo Vallecano, where the attitudes of star player Cristiano Ronaldo and defender Sergio Ramos will be under extra scrutiny. Ramos was benched against City, while the previously "sad" Ronaldo looked happy again after scoring the late winner.

Ramos spent his off-day Wednesday training at Madrid's grounds as the Spain international reacts to Mourinho's surprise decision to field French teenager Raphael Varane in his place against the English champions.

Mourinho appears to have picked out Ramos to blame for Saturday's 1-0 loss at Sevilla when the Portuguese coach said his players quit on him.

"He's not only the second captain but one of the best central defenders in the world. (But) you have to respect every one of the coach's decisions," defender Alvaro Arbeloa said. "We know we have to change the situation in the league. We know ourselves we haven't been at our best. We agree with (Mourinho) on everything, I think we have a great relationship with him after three years together."

Barcelona welcomes winless Granada on Saturday with Lionel Messi already in excellent form, having scored two goals in Wednesday's Champions League win to take his season tally to 10.

Defender Jordi Alba returned to training on Thursday but Barcelona's defense is hurting with Gerard Pique injured in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Spartak Moscow to join Carles Puyol on the sidelines.

"They are important players we're missing, pillars inside the team. But the team will respond because it has young players who are ready to play," midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. "There's no reason to be upset. There's a competitive and deep squad to pick from."

Atletico Madrid has a busy week as it plays Valladolid at home on Sunday before traveling to Real Betis to play on Wednesday to make up a second-round game that was delayed because of the European Super Cup. Betis gets an extra day's rest, playing Espanyol on Saturday.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone seemed to take that into account when leaving striker Radamel Falcao and several other players out of the squad for Thursday's Europa League match at Hapoel Tel Aviv.

"Everyone knows I don't like to gift anything to anyone and we want to be competitive in each competition," the Argentine coach said. "A team needs to improve and these are minutes and games to do so with."

In other matches this weekend, it's: Zaragoza vs. Osasuna; Celta Vigo vs. Getafe; Mallorca vs. Valencia; Levante vs. Real Sociedad; Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga; and Deportivo La Coruna vs. Sevilla.

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Follow Paul Logothetis at http://twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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