Ramos: Madrid will improve
Real Madrid may not have hit top gear yet under Jose Mourinho but they will hope to put some daylight between themselves and Barcelona this weekend when they travel to lowly Levante while their arch-rivals make the testing trip to sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao.
Madrid have picked up 10 points from their opening four league games and moved to the top of the Primera Division standings this week after downing Espanyol 3-0 to record their third successive victory. However, while results have been going their way, Madrid's performances have not been so well received by their supporters who expect more from the star-studded squad.
Defender Sergio Ramos insists his side are working hard to improve but points out it is still early days, saying: "We are picking up points and showing we are a consistent team, which at this stage of the season are the most important things. We want to continue improving and give a better image of ourselves to the fans, and for that we are working hard every day. We are getting better."
That could prove bad news for a Levante side who have struggled since returning to the top flight this summer. The Valencia-based outfit lost each of their opening three games and conceded 10 goals in the process and though they managed to beat Almeria 1-0 last night, Madrid will be firm favourites going into Saturday's clash.
Barca, who are a point behind Madrid in third place, look to have a much tougher task this weekend as they travel to Athletic's San Mames fortress. Barca have a decent record in Bilbao, losing just twice in 12 visits, but like Madrid, Pep Guardiola's men have not hit top gear yet this season.
They were impressive in beating Atletico Madrid last Sunday but before that they suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to Hercules while last night they only edged past Sporting Gijon 1-0 at Camp Nou.
Defender Gabriel Milito knows they could be in for a tough time against Athletic on Saturday, saying: "We'll have to be prepared because we're up against a very good team. It's one of the toughest grounds in Spanish football."
Barca will again have to do without Lionel Messi as he continues to be sidelined with the ankle injury he sustained against Atletico. It remains to be seen if the Argentinian superstar will be fit to play in next week's UEFA Champions League encounter with Rubin Kazan.
Second-placed Valencia, who last night lost the final remaining 100% record in La Liga when they were held 1-1 at home by Atletico, are away to Sporting while fourth-placed Atletico host rock-bottom Real Zaragoza. Sevilla, who could join leaders Madrid and Valencia on 10 points if they beat Racing Santander this evening, are away to promoted Hercules.
In other matches, Racing host Getafe, second-bottom Almeria go to Deportivo La Coruna, Espanyol are at home to Osasuna, Real Mallorca host Real Sociedad and, on Monday night, Villarreal travel to Malaga.