MADRID • In the space of just five games, Real Madrid have gone from red-hot LaLiga title favourites to trailing rivals Barcelona by seven points ahead of today's trip to Alaves.
When Real swept a crisis-ridden Barca aside 5-1 in the Spanish Super Cup last month, Zinedine Zidane's men were expected to romp to the title.
Instead, disappointing home draws with Valencia and Levante were compounded on Wednesday when Real failed to score for the first time in 74 games in a 0-1 loss to Betis, who became the first side other than Barca or Atletico Madrid to win at the Santiago Bernabeu in LaLiga for 61/2 years .
"We have dropped seven points in a small number of games. But there is a long way to go and we can't throw everything we have done until now in the bin because of two or three average games," insisted Zidane.
"The league is very long and we will stay calm within the group because we will lift ourselves and we know we will have better days."
Going on the road this weekend may come as a relief to Real, as they have shone on their travels this season in wins at Deportivo La Coruna and Sociedad as well as beating Barca and Manchester United in the Spanish and Uefa Super Cups respectively.
NO TIME TO GIVE UP
We have dropped seven points in a small number of games. But there is a long way to go and we can't throw everything we have done until now in the bin because of two or three average games.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Real Madrid coach, calling on his men to keep their chins up for a long season ahead.
"It seems like if we don't score early at the Bernabeu we start to get anxious," admitted Real's Spain midfielder Isco. "It is something we have to improve and it is better that it happens now at the start of the season when there is more room for error."
While Real have endured a rough start to their title defence, Alaves are suffering a nightmare start themselves as they have lost all five matches so far and already sacked coach Luis Zubeldia.
There will not be a Zidane family reunion at Mendizorroza as Enzo, Zinedine's oldest son, cannot feature for Alaves owing to the terms of his loan move from Real.
However, Zidane's men can reduce the gap with Barca to four points before the leaders travel to Girona for a first-ever Catalan derby between the two in the top flight which will be played against a backdrop of regional unrest.
A crisis over Catalonia's latest push for independence came to a head this week as Spanish police raided Catalan government offices and arrested officials to halt the referendum on Oct 1, sparking mass protests in Barcelona and several other Catalan cities.
Situated 100km from Barcelona, the city of Girona is fiercely pro-independence and a spiky atmosphere with a strong anti-Spain sentiment is expected at the promoted side's Montilivi Stadium.
The political upheaval, however, has not prevented Barcelona from enjoying a storming start to the season. They swatted Eibar aside 6-1 in midweek to keep a 100 per cent record after five games.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
ALAVES V REAL MADRID
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