(Reuters) - Leaders Real Madrid get their pursuit of a first La Liga title in five years back underway against Granada on Saturday with their confidence sky high and seeking to match Barcelona’s Spanish record of 39 games unbeaten in all competitions.
Zinedine Zidane’s side crushed fellow title aspirants Sevilla 3-0 in a King’s Cup last 16 first leg on Wednesday despite resting forwards Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo and having five other key players missing due to injury.
Defenders Pepe and Sergio Ramos plus midfielders Lucas Vazquez and Mateo Kovacic will still be missing on Saturday along with long-term injury victim Gareth Bale but it is difficult to envisage any outcome other than a win against 19th placed Granada.
Real’s top scorer Ronaldo, crowned Ballon d‘Or winner for the fourth time before Spain’s winter break, is set to return along with Benzema, although Zidane said his team are playing so well they barely notice the absentees.
“Of course some players are more important than others but what we want is to make every player feel important and everyone is playing phenomenally well,” Zidane said on Wednesday.
“The good thing is that everyone is committed to the cause, there’s no difference when players are out and that says a lot about the group.”
Real will match the Spanish record tally of 39 games set by Barcelona if they avoid defeat to Granada, who have won only one game all campaign.
Champions Barca, trailing Real by three points and having played one game more, face a tougher test in their first league game of 2017 as they visit fourth-placed Villarreal.
Coach Luis Enrique has an almost full strength squad available and his attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar should be fully rested after enjoying a longer break than their team mates.
“I’ve been pleasingly surprised with the shape they’ve been in since they returned, they have come back far sharper than when they left,” said the coach.
“Just because they were on holiday doesn’t mean they haven’t been working hard, and I‘m very happy with how fit they are.”
Sevilla, a point behind Barca in third, face a difficult trip to in-form Real Sociedad (fifth) while Atletico Madrid (sixth) travel to mid-table Eibar.
Editing by Peter Rutherford