Wounded Real face tricky Valencia test

MADRID - Real Madrid must put behind them a humbling defeat by Barcelona and a dismal week all round when they face fifth-placed Valencia in Liga on Saturday.

Monday's mauling in the 'Clasico' was Real's first loss of the season and the margin and manner of it surprised everyone as they slipped off the top of La Liga down to second, two behind points their arch-rivals.

Coach Jose Mourinho was given a one-match Champions League ban and four players were fined by UEFA on Tuesday over allegations that Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso deliberately provoked red cards in a match against Ajax last month.

To top it all, Gonzalo Higuain was told on Wednesday he would probably need surgery for a slipped disc which could keep the Argentina striker out of action for up to two months.

"Our pride in the shirt and the club's badge has been hurt, especially as we know many Madrid fans are still suffering from the (Barca) defeat," Real and Spain defender Ramos told reporters.

"We need to pick ourselves up and stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Not to do so would be a mistake. On Saturday we have an important game against rivals who are having a good season."

Ramos also apologised for his sending-off at the Nou Camp, when he lashed out in frustration to trip Lionel Messi near the end of the game, and tussled with Carles Puyol and Xavi as walked off the pitch.

Mourinho will be without Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho who is also suspended, which will probably force him to bring in Spain defenders Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa.

RONALDO DOUBT

He will be without Higuain and top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtful as he recovers from a bruised right ankle.

Games between Real and Valencia have traditionally been high-octane affairs, and Unai Emery's side arrive in good form and unbeaten in five.

"Real will be intense and keen to win to help them forget about the other day's game," Valencia's Spain winger Juan Mata said. "I hope we don't catch a backlash."

Barcelona travel to Pamplona to play Osasuna on Saturday, but the hosts intend to make life harder for them than Real did in their compact and intimidating Reyno de Navarra stadium.

"They won't have it so easy here. They know what to expect," Osasuna midfielder Fernando Soriano said.

"We need to be committed and make sure they know about it. It needs to be a physical game and very tough."

Third-placed Villarreal can close on the leaders with a home win over misfiring Sevilla on Sunday when Real Sociedad host Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby.


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