MADRID : The Spanish league is off to a tight race atop the standings, with five teams separated by only three points. Yet, most of the talk entering the weekend is about whether Cristiano Ronaldo will end his scoring slump.
Real Madrid leads the league ahead of its match at Alaves on Saturday, but not thanks to Ronaldo's recent performances. The forward is enduring his worst start to a season since joining Madrid in 2009, having scored only four goals in nine matches.
"When you're used to scoring almost 70 goals a season, it's almost like an addiction for goals," Madrid reserve forward Alvaro Morata said. "For us, he is the most important player in the team and I hope that he scores lots of goals, but he is not a machine. He is a human being. Even if he comes from another planet and is different, he also has the right to miss."
Ronaldo also scored five goals in two games with Portugal, against Andorra and the Faeroe Islands in World Cup qualifying, but that's no reprieve to the demanding Madrid fans.
He was jeered by the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium after another disappointing performance in a 2-1 win against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
"The fans demand a lot of players," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "The Bernabeu is special and we know it. Cristiano knows it and he is used to it. The important thing is to continue with our work."
Ronaldo has scored only two goals in the Spanish league — in a 5-2 win against Osasuna in September and a 6-1 rout at Real Betis two weeks ago. He also scored two goals in the Champions League, one in a 2-2 draw at Borussia Dortmund and one in a 2-1 win over Sporting Lisbon, when his free-kick goal started a late rally.
"Of course he wants to score more," Madrid defender Marcelo said. "He is a player who helps a lot and not only with goals, also with his work on the pitch."
The game against Osasuna was the first of the season for Ronaldo. He hadn't played since injuring his left knee in the final of the European Championship, which Portugal won.
Ronaldo seems fit and has had plenty of scoring chances, but has not been able to capitalize on them — including on some he usually converts. Zidane says he is not worried and that it's just a matter of time before he starts finding the net again.
The 31-year-old was among the Madrid players rested in the team's 7-1 win over Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. He is set to return to the lineup on Saturday, when Zidane's team tries to defend its Spanish league lead against promoted Alaves.
Sevilla, one point behind Madrid, plays at Sporting Gijon on Saturday, while third-place Barcelona hosts last-place Granada in its 1,500th game at the Camp Nou. Contrary to Ronaldo, Barcelona's Lionel Messi is enjoying one of the best starts of his career with 14 goals in 11 matches. He has more goals than Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema combined.
Fourth-place Villarreal plays at Eibar on Sunday, and fifth-place Atletico Madrid, which led the league entering the last round, hosts Malaga on Saturday.