After finding his scoring touch in Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo is ready to renew his scintillating duel with Lionel Messi in the Spanish league.
Ronaldo ended a rare three-game slump without a goal to help Real Madrid win 2-0 at Schalke in the Champions League.
“It is clear that Cristiano Ronaldo lives to score goals,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It’s never a problem for us when he doesn’t score for a couple of games. But he, of course, minds. I believe we are back on the right track.”
Madrid leads Barcelona by one point in the league before visiting a modest Elche side on Sunday.
Barcelona hosts Malaga on Saturday, three days before it travels to play Manchester City in the Champions League.
Not so long ago Ronaldo was running away with the Spanish league’s individual scoring title for the season.
Through 15 matches, Ronaldo had already tallied the impressive haul of 25 goals, while Messi – his closest chaser – was far behind with 13.
Since then, Messi has exploded and Ronaldo has struggled to keep up. Ronaldo still leads with 28 goals, but Messi has closed the gap and has 26.
Counting all competitions, the two are fittingly locked on 37 goals in 34 appearances each.
Barcelona has made a remarkable turnaround for a team that seemed to be on the brink in early January following a loss at Real Sociedad that was quickly followed by the firing of its sports director, a call for early club elections and reports that coach Luis Enrique’s job was at risk.
“Since (Real Sociedad) the team has changed its attitude,” Messi said. “We give more effort and go out onto the pitch in a different manner. Now we pressure to recover the ball like we didn’t do before.
“We are playing very, very well. But we know that we still haven’t won anything yet and that these are the important months.”
Messi and Neymar have since combined for 24 goals in an 11-game winning streak to put them back on Madrid’s heels in the league and into the Copa de Rey semifinals.
Barcelona will aim to keep the streak going before heading to England to face the Premier League’s reigning champion in Europe’s top-tier competition on Tuesday.
Andres Iniesta was cleared to play Thursday after missing one game with flu-like symptoms.
Third-place Atletico Madrid needs to beat Almeria on Saturday to boost its title defense. A loss last round at Celta Vigo left it trailing Madrid by seven points.
“We will keep fighting to stay in the top positions,” Atletico defender Jesus Gamez said. “The match against Almeria is, right now, our most important game.”
Atletico also returns to the Champions League on Wednesday when it visits Bayer Leverkusen.
While the top three vie for the title, another three teams – Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal – continue their campaigns to finish in the top four and claim the prize of a Champions League berth.
Atletico could even be in danger of ceding third position with Valencia now just three points behind in fourth.
Valencia visits Cordoba on Saturday. The next day Sevilla is at Real Sociedad and Villarreal hosts Eibar.