Spanish League: Raul key for Madrid

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Raul Gonzalez's revival is proving a key factor in Real Madrid's strong start to its Spanish league title defense.

Updated: November 04, 2007 12:18 IST
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Raul Gonzalez's revival is proving a key factor in Real Madrid's strong start to its Spanish league title defense.

Restored to a more offensive position this season, Raul's five goals have helped Madrid to eight wins from 10 matches and a four-point lead in the standings.

The Madrid captain, who has also scored twice in this season's Champions League, had endured suggestions his illustrious career was in terminal decline after several barren years.

Now, pressure is growing on national coach Luis Aragones to recall Spain's all-time top scorer, with 44 goals in 102 games, after a year since his last selection.

On Wednesday, Raul scored one goal and made another in Madrid's 5-1 rout of Valencia, drawing praise from the club's sporting director, Predrag Mijatovic.

"Raul was spectacular. We're very happy with him. He's a great captain, he scores, he provides assists. We couldn't ask more from him," Mijatovic said.

On Saturday, Raul aims to lead Madrid to a third straight league win at 11th-place Sevilla, which has surprisingly been in patchy form this season.

Sevilla's new coach, Manolo Jimenez, will be taking charge for the third time following the departure of Juande Ramos to Tottenham.

Jimenez, who has one win and one defeat so far, will be hoping for a repeat of Sevilla's 6-3 aggregate win over Madrid in the Spanish Supercup in August.

He will be glad to have striker Frederic Kanoute back from injury to accompany the in-form Luis Fabiano, who has scored six times in the past four matches.

Madrid central defender Pepe, who was injured on his league debut on the opening day of the season, is expected to return to the squad. Forwards Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuain are still sidelined.

Madrid leads with 25 points, while Barcelona and Villarreal have 21. Atletico Madrid follows with 20.

Sixth-place Valencia also has a new coach in Ronald Koeman, although the Dutchman will only be watching from the stand when the team visits No 8 Mallorca on Saturday.

Koeman's first task will be to restore morale to a side which has lost three straight games in the league and Champions League.

"What I want is for him to come here straight away and start working with us, and for us to begin to get good results," Valencia forward Miguel Angel Angulo said.

FC Barcelona hopes Ronaldinho's first goal in nearly two months in Thursday's 1-1 draw at Valladolid will mark an improvement in fortunes for the Brazilian.

The two-time world player of the year has struggled recently, leading to reports that his four-year stay at Barcelona could be approaching an end.

On Sunday, Ronaldinho is likely to have more scoring chances when Barcelona, boasting a perfect home record so far, hosts lowly Real Betis.

Striker Thierry Henry and defender Eric Abidal are expected to miss their second straight game through injury, while Samuel Eto'o is not expected to appear for four weeks following surgery on a thigh tendon.

Betis coach Hector Cuper is in the firing line just three months into his job following a four-game losing streak.

Atletico seeks to add to its 15-goal tally - the highest in the division this season - at Vicente Calderon stadium when it faces Villarreal on Sunday.

However, striker Diego Forlan won't face his former club after tearing a muscle in his left thigh, while forward Sergio Aguero is doubtful with a right thigh strain.

Villarreal's attack will be spearheaded by Giuseppi Rossi, who has proved an instant hit by scoring six goals since his offseason transfer from Manchester United.

Last-place Levante hosts promoted Almeria on Sunday in desperate need of a victory after drawing one and losing nine of its opening 10 matches. It has scored just three goals and conceded 23.

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