Villarreal provide test for Madrid
© AFP

The spotlight will be on Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini as he returns to old club Villarreal for the first time on Wednesday as leaders Real face their first serious test of the new season.

Chile coach Pellegrini spent five seasons at Villarreal guiding the tiny club to the 2006 UEFA Champions League semi-final but now all he is focused on is keeping Real at the summit. Real have a perfect nine points sitting above Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao on goal difference after a 5-0 rout of promoted Xerez but the result could not disguise a patchy performance.

There were jeers from the home Madrid crowd with Fernando Gago the main target but Pellegrini backed the Argentine to bounce back. "Fans see, feel and express with applause or whistles. It was Fernando Gago's turn, but he shouldn't be affected because he is good enough to change things around," said Pellegrini.

Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has been the real plus-point for Real so far with four goals in three league games to top the scoring charts. While Real are winning and still getting whistled at, Pellegrini's successor at Villarreal Ernesto Valverde has genuine problems as he searches for a maiden win in charge.

Villarreal languish fourth from bottom and still have captain Marcos Senna on the sidelines. Barcelona also have three wins under their belt and passed their first test of the season with flying colours with a 5-2 demolition of Atletico Madrid.

Champs momentum continues
Pep Guardiola's side travel to Racing Santander on Tuesday with praise ringing in their ears. UEFA President Michel Platini heaped praise on the treble winners this week saying their ability to control possession demoralised opponents. "With the current Barcelona team the ball does the running not the team," said Platini. "The players don't get tired the ball does."

Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic has settled quickly scoring in all three league games so far and Lionel Messi, who recently penned a lucrative contract until 2016, was back to his best at Atletico. "I am getting used to playing here at Barcelona and three goals in three gives me a lot of confidence," said Ibrahimovic. "Everything just seems to flow naturally in this team."

It has been a torrid start to the season for Atletico with just one point from nine and they lie second from bottom ahead of Wednesday's home match versus Almeria. "We are the same team as last season," insisted striker Diego Forlan. "Of course everyone wants good results but we are not the only team to start poorly and there lots of games left to get things right."

Kings Cup finalists Athletic Bilbao have raced out of the blocks with three victories to join Barcelona and Real at the summit. Bilbao travel to newcomers Tenerife on Wednesday aiming to build on their flying start which is somewhat unexpected when you consider they flirted with relegation for most of last season.

Elsewhere Valencia, two points behind the leading trio, travel to Madrid to face Getafe on Wednesday. After overcoming the disappointment of missing out on a big summer move Spanish international striker David Villa has knuckled down and scored four goals to join Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts.

Villa called for the team to be more clinical following a 2-2 draw against ten-men Sporting Gijon over the weekend. "If we relax and draw against teams with ten men we won't go anywhere," explained Villa.

After losing their season opener against Valencia, Sevilla have recovered with two wins but have a tough task on Tuesday when they host unbeaten Real Mallorca who have seven points from nine. "Mallorca have caused us difficulties over the last few years and this season they have started well and have a great coach in (Gregorio) Manzano," said Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez.