MADRID, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- Have Real Madrid's strikers got a damp fuse? And what can Jose Mourinho do to reignite it?
Those are two of the questions hanging in the air as Real Madrid prepare to entertain Rayo Vallecano on Sunday night.
While Rayo are enjoying a spectacular season and are challenging for a place in Europe next season thanks to their brave attacking football, the storm clouds are gathering around Real Madrid.
Although the 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United in the Champions League on Wednesday still leaves their options very much open, the fact is that Real Madrid effectively play for their entire season in the space of a week between February 26, when they visit Barcelona's Camp Nou Stadium for the return leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final, which is also tied 1-1 after the first leg in Madrid, and March 5th when they visit Old Trafford.
Lose those two games and Madrid's season is effectively over three months before the last league game of the season, which will leave plenty of time for rumors and speculation about the future.
One reason for Madrid's current state of affairs is that while Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring goals game after game, his attacking partners, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema are nowhere near their best form.
Both have been criticized for looking sluggish and while Higuain can perhaps have the excuse of a muscle injury which sidelined him for around two months earlier this season, it is hard to see what excuse Benzema can offer.
Although the Frenchman did score in last weekend's win over Sevilla, it was a tap in from on the line and his numbers this season are disappointing with 6 goals in 19 appearances, compared to 8 in 16 for Higuain, although the majority of Higuain's came before his injury.
Benzema will have the chance to improve on that in the Bernabeu on Sunday as Higuain is suspended, along with Alvaro Arbeloa and Luka Modric. Madrid will also be without the injured Iker Casillas and Mesut Ozil, while Mourinho is not going to risk Xabi Alonso, who played half injured in the Champions League and who will be vital in the coming weeks.
Mourinho will be keen to give minutes to Pepe, who is back from injury and could well partner him with Rafael Varene in central defense, something that will do nothing to calm rumors of a rift between the Real Madrid coach and defender Sergio Ramos.
Meanwhile Marcelo could also be back in the side against a Rayo team that got a massive morale boost last week with a 2-1 win at home to Atletico Madrid.
Rayo coach Paco Jemez said on Saturday that he wants to see the "bravest Rayo side of the season in the Bernabeu," and that should guarantee goals, although whether they are goals for Rayo, who will look to exploit the pace of Leo Baptistao and Lass and Madrid's weaknesses at set pieces, or whether it will be Madrid who are still lethal on the break, who score them, will be made clear on the night.
The game will be Mourinho's 100th league game in charge at Real Madrid, he will be hoping to end with a win, but he knows a win on Sunday is worth nothing unless his side produce the goods in when it really matters.