Real Madrid are hoping Cristiano Ronaldo can end a lean period in front of goal as they attempt to keep their noses in front of a tight five-way race atop La Liga at Alaves on Saturday.
Madrid bounced back from a four-game draw streak in style by scoring 20 goals in winning their last four outings to move back top of the table and take big strides towards progress in the Champions League and Copa del Rey.
However, Ronaldo has scored just one of those 20 and his return of four goals from nine appearances is by a distance his worst strike rate at this stage of the campaign since joining Madrid seven years ago.
Ronaldo was even whistled by Real’s demanding fanbase at the Santiago Bernabeu during last weekend’s 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.
“I would prefer him to score two or three goals in every match, but I am not worried because I know it will pass,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
Alvaro Morata came off the bench to grab a late winner against Athletic and also struck twice in a 7-1 mauling of Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday to move ahead of Ronaldo with six goals this season.
Yet, despite still being frozen out Zidane’s preferred starting line-up by Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Morata insists the Portuguese should be cut some slack.
“When one is used to scoring nearly 70 goals a season they are like goal addicts,” said Morata.
“For us he is still the most important player in the team and we hope he scores lots of goals, but he is not a machine.
“He is human, although it seems like he comes from a different planet, and he has the right to miss.”
Zidane is expected to resort to the side that started against Bilbao as Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Marcelo, Mateo Kovacic and Raphael Varane were all rested in midweek.
Alaves have only won twice in their first nine games on their return to the top flight for the first time in a decade.
Yet former Valencia and Liverpool defender Mauricio Pellegrino’s men have already proved they are more than capable of causing an upset as they shocked Barcelona at the Camp Nou last month and drew away to Atletico Madrid on the opening day of the season.
Sevilla are Real’s surprise closest challengers and can go top for at least a couple of hours with victory at Sporting Gijon earlier on Saturday.
“We won’t be jumping for joy right now. The team are performing well, but aspiring to win La Liga is a big ask,” said Sevilla winger Vitolo.
“Everyone knows there are three teams that have that aspiration and there is still a long way to go.”
Barcelona and Villarreal sit just two points back from Madrid with Atletico Madrid a point further adrift in fifth.
Barca have the easiest task of the title contenders on paper this weekend when winless Granada visit the Camp Nou.
The champions have just 16 fit first team players with Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Jeremy Mathieu and Arda Turan all sidelined through injury.
However, by contrast to Ronaldo’s struggles, Lionel Messi is in fine goalscoring form as he and Luis Suarez lead La Liga’s scoring charts on seven despite the Argentine missing a month of action due to a groin injury.
Atletico will be favoured to bounce back from their first defeat of the season at Sevilla last weekend when Malaga visit the Vicente Calderon.
Meanwhile, Villarreal will put their unbeaten record on the line at Eibar on Sunday.
Leganes v Real Sociedad (1845)
Sporting Gijon v Sevilla (1100), Alaves v Real Madrid (1415), Atletico Madrid v Malaga (1630), Barcelona v Granada (1845)
Eibar v Villarreal (1100), Athletic Bilbao v Osasuna (1515), Real Betis v Espanyol (1730), Las Palmas v Celta Vigo (1945)
Deportivo la Coruna v Valencia (1945)