Real Madrid faces stern test at Levante

Valencia, Spain ( - Real Madrid comes into its eighth La Liga match of the season on somewhat shaky ground.

Los Blancos have taken 16 points through seven games, a formidable total under normal circumstances but one that puts the club in third place behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, both of which have enjoyed unblemished starts to the season.

The five-point deficit has brought a great deal of criticism on manager Carlo Ancelotti heading into a potentially tricky fixture against Levante at the Ciudad de Valencia on Saturday.

Levante opened the season with a disappointing 7-0 loss to Barcelona, but the club has responded in impressive fashion by going on a six-game unbeaten run to rise to ninth place in the Spanish top flight with 10 points.

Real Madrid opened with a 5-0-1 record until a 1-0 derby loss to Atletico Madrid dropped the club five points adrift of top spot in La Liga.

Los Blancos have been on fire in Champions League play, winning both of their European ties by a combined score of 10-1. But Ancelotti has accepted the criticism thrown his way, saying that being whistled by fans at halftime has had a positive impact on the team.

"Being whistled is not bad," Ancelotti said. "I have received a lot of criticism in my career. I do not remember any criticism which was bad. I consider these things to be necessary sometimes, they serve to make you work better."

Should Madrid experience another slip-up, Barcelona will be waiting to capitalize. The Catalans will take on Valladolid at Camp Nou in Saturday's last La Liga fixture, but they will have to go without Lionel Messi, who has been ruled out of action for 2-3 weeks with a thigh injury.

Atletico Madrid will return to action on Sunday, hosting a struggling Celta Vigo side that is winless in its last five La Liga contests.

Real Sociedad has come out of the gates quite slow this term. La Real has been unable to build upon its top-four finish last season, taking just one win from its first seven league matches of the new campaign. Jagoba Arrasate's side will look to begin its ascent up the table with a positive result against lowly Rayo Vallecano at the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, Elche will look to build upon a victory over Celta Vigo in its last outing when it welcomes Espanyol to the Martinez Valero.

On Sunday, Almeria will go for its first league win of the season when it faces Sevilla at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Real Betis goes for its second successive win when it faces Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez and Athletic Bilbao will attempt to put an end to Valencia's three-game winning run when the two sides square off at San Mames.

On Friday, Villarreal bagged a pair of second-half goals en route to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Granada, while Oriol Magem's first-half goal was enough to see Osasuna edge Malaga by a 1-0 score.