Kaka looking to lead Real Madrid over Espanyol

AP, Thursday 29 Sep 2011

Brazil playmaker Kaka will be hoping his return to form will help Real Madrid beat Espanyol in the Spanish league on Sunday and keep pace with defending champion Barcelona

Real Madrid's Kaka (Photo: Reuters)

Kaka scored a goal in Madrid’s 3-0 Champions League win over Ajax on Tuesday and should be fit to face Espanyol.

For Barcelona, Lionel Messi can take over sole possession of second place in the club’s scoring list at Sporting Gijon on Sunday. Messi equaled Laszlo Kubala’s total of 194 competitive goals for Barcelona in the 5-0 win at BATE Borisov on Wednesday. Cesar holds the club record of 235 goals overall.

Also Sunday, league leader Real Betis will host Levante.

Kaka seems to have put an injury-plagued two years at Madrid behind him and received an ovation from the crowd at the Santiago Bernebeu Stadium for his starring role against Ajax.

“Their support gives me a lot of strength. The people have always been behind me,” Kaka said. “I feel in debt to the Madrid fans and to the club. I have the dream of triumphing with Madrid and I want to make it come true.”

Madrid returned to winning ways in the league with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat trick in a 6-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano last Saturday. The side had dropped points in two previous league matches—a scoreless draw at Racing Santander and 1-0 loss at Levante.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho will have to decide whether to risk Kaka for a third game in a week against Espanyol, but the 29-year-old Brazilian’s ability to unlock packed defenses has added an extra dimension to Madrid’s attack.

“He is a quality player and it is very important for us to see him happy and enjoying himself because it means he will be an essential player on this team,” Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka said. “He is the first one who deserves to be fit. The rest of us simply have to stand by him and support him.”

Madrid has 10 points from five matches, two behind Betis going into the weekend. Espanyol is in midtable with six points.

Barcelona travels to bottom club Sporting on the back of successive 5-0 wins and with Messi in his usual irrepressible form.

The Argentine scored a hat trick in the 5-0 league win against Atletico Madrid on Saturday and followed up with two more in the rout of BATE.

Those goals put him level with Kubala on the all-time list of Barcelona scorers, second only to Cesar. Messi scored 53 goals last year, meaning he could become Barcelona’s record scorer this season—and he’s still only 24.

Messi’s total was reached in 280 games—an astonishing strike rate of more than two goals every three matches.

“I’m very happy to have drawn level with such a great and historic man,” Messi said of Kubala. “I try my best in every match. I’d like to be first (ahead of Cesar). That would be beautiful for me.”

Barcelona may be without defender Carles Puyol for the trip to Gijon after the captain picked up a right side injury in the win at BATE.

Puyol joins Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez and Ibrahim Afellay on the sideline.

Barcelona is a point off the top, while Sporting is bottom of the table with a single point from five matches.

Newly promoted Betis will guarantee another week in first place if it can maintain an impressive return to the top flight with a win against another surprise performer, Levante.

Levante is level with Barcelona and Sevilla on 11 points.

Betis midfielder Salvador Sevilla said the Levante match would provide a stiff test.

“It’s an opponent that could trick us. They’ve started well and it will be a complicated match, even though we are at home,” Sevilla said. “With 12 points you get relegated so we haven’t achieved anything yet.”

Valencia and Malaga can take over the league lead, at least temporarily, on Saturday.

Fresh from rescuing a point against Chelsea in the 1-1 Champions League draw on Wednesday, Valencia hosts Granada while Malaga is home to Getafe.

Also Saturday, it’s Racing Santander vs. Rayo Vallecano; Villarreal vs. Zaragoza; and Osasuna vs. Mallorca. On Sunday’s, it’s: Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao; and Atletico Madrid vs. Sevilla.

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