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Preview: Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid

Sports Mole looks ahead to Real Madrid's trip to neighbours Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday evening.

Having witnessed city rivals Atletico Madrid lift the La Liga trophy last season, Real Madrid are now facing up to the prospect of Barcelona celebrating this time around.

With four points between themselves and the league-leading Catalans, there is a belief that Carlo Ancelotti's men must win all nine of their remaining matches - starting with Wednesday night's derby away at Rayo Vallecano - if they are to finish on top.

Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano's Bueno scores during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 8, 2015© Getty Images

There has been the odd winless run throughout the course of the season to date, but Paco Jemez has been rightly lauded for not only the results that his Rayo side have picked up, but also the style in which they've done it.

They may have been hammered 6-1 by Barcelona early last month, but then that can happen to much bigger sides than Rayo. Since that humbling in the Camp Nou, Jemez's men have won three matches on the bounce and also recorded a 4-2 win over Levante prior to that when Alberto Bueno scored all four goals.

It must be said, though, that their home form has been mixed. There have been six wins - the most impressive of which came against Champions League-hunting Villarreal, but that is accompanied by seven defeats.

However, the fact that four of those wins have been achieved since February onwards would suggest that they have started to turn the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas into something of a fortress.

While reaching the European places looks to be highly unlikely, there is still something to play for from Rayo's point of view. They are currently in ninth, with their highest ever La Liga finish being eighth. Between themselves and seventh-placed Malaga there is a seven-point gap and although tough, it is a gap that could be bridged if they were to end the campaign strongly.

Recent form: LWLWWW

Real Madrid

Carlo Ancelotti, coach of Real Madrid reacts during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2, 2014© Getty Images

What is the best way to respond to your critics? Scoring nine goals will probably do it! Prior to Sunday's meeting with Granada, Madrid had won just one of their previous four La Liga outings - a run which included an El Clasico defeat and also a disappointing 1-1 draw at home with Villarreal.

The knives were out for Ancelotti, while the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Iker Casillas were all roundly criticised, both inside the Bernabeu and in the media. In fact, if reports are to be believed, there is little that Ancelotti can do now to save his job, with Zinedine Zidane said to be waiting in the wings.

Granada, though, were like lambs to the slaughter as a Ronaldo-inspired Madrid ran riot, winning 9-1 with the Portuguese talisman scoring five times. It took his tally for the season in all competitions to 47 goals and also moved him on to the 300 mark in Los Blancos colours. Only Raul and Alfredo di Stefano have found the net on more occasions in the famous white shirt.

On Wednesday they will remain in Madrid, albeit in the surroundings of Rayo's Campo de Futbol de Vallecas, which has a capacity of just over 14,000.

While Ancelotti's men have recorded 10 victories on the road this term, there have also been five losses. What's more, three of those have been suffered in their last four outings away from the comforts of the Bernabeu. During that period, they've shipped seven goals and scored just three.

Recent La Liga form: WDLWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DLLWLW

Team News

Real Madrid's Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring during the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) round of 32 second leg football match Real Madrid CF vs UE Cornella at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on December 2, 2014© Getty Images

For the first time in two months, Ancelotti will have both Isco and James Rodriguez available for selection, although there is only likely to be space for one of them in his starting lineup.

Rodriguez had spent eight weeks on the sidelines with a broken foot until he returned against Granada - a game which midfielder Isco missed because of suspension. There have been suggestions in the Spanish capital that Isco will be given the nod to ensure that Rodriguez does not overburden himself so quickly after returning from injury.

Elsewhere, Dani Carvajal could earn a recall at right-back at the expense of Alvaro Arbeloa, but the game is likely to come too soon for the injured Pepe.

News of Pepe's likely absence will be a boost to Madrid's chances of keeping hold of Raphael Varane this summer as the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United move in. The French centre-back is known to be keen to gain more regular action from the start.

The visitors are bound to include Bueno up front. The striker, who has scored 16 goals this season and is believed to be on the verge of joining Porto, made three appearances for Madrid as a youngster.

He could well be joined in attack by former Manchester United striker Manucho, with Chelsea loanee Gael Kakuta also in contention.

Rayo Vallecano possible starting lineup:
Alvarez; Tito, Ze Castro, Ba, Insua; Baena, Jozabad, Embarba, Kakuta; Manucho, Bueno

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Casillas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco; Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema

Head To Head

Rayo will certainly be hoping that they are not on the receiving end of a heavy defeat on Wednesday, just as they were when they headed to the Bernabeu last November.

Bale ended a run of five games without a goal when he broke the deadlock, before Sergio Ramos doubled the advantage. Bueno then pulled a goal back, but strikes from Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo sealed a 5-1 win.

In fact, victories are seemingly routine for Madrid when it comes to facing Rayo. They've won the last 13 meetings between the two sides and are unbeaten in 15.

You have to go all the way back to February 1997 to find Rayo's last win against their illustrious neighbours.

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We say: Rayo Vallecano 1-1 Real Madrid

Rayo may have a rotten record against Madrid, but they are playing well right now and are picking up the results to go along with it. If Real's thrashing of Granada has lifted spirits among the squad, it could be tough for the hosts, but there is every chance that they could prove to be a frustrating opponent.

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Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs Villarreal CF at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 1, 2015
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