MADRID, Sep 24 (Reuters) Real Madrid's 1-1 draw at promoted Valladolid on Sunday has given the Primera Liga's slow starters a lift before the midweek matches.
Bernd Schuster's side had stormed to the top of the table with three successive wins but were proved fallible when they were outfought and almost upset by last season's second division champions.
Substitute Javier Saviola scrambled a late equaliser and Schuster was put on the spot for the first time over his decision to rest leading scorer and outstanding player from the opening games, Wesley Sneijder.
The Dutchman is likely to return for the visit of winless Real Betis yesterday.
''We need to try and find solutions to make sure what happened today doesn't happen again,'' said Real forward Gonzalo Higuain on Sunday.
Real still lead the standings by a point from improving Villarreal and Valencia and by two from arch-rivals Barcelona in fourth.
After a lacklustre start to Barca's campaign, including an injury to Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry's tendency to hit the post rather than the net and some below-par performances from Ronaldinho, Frank Rijkaard is at last breathing easier.
Argentine Lionel Messi has inspired the side and carried them to a 3-0 victory against Olympique Lyon last Wednesday and a 2-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday.
''With this attitude we are difficult to beat. More important than the good play, what we needed were the goals,'' Messi said.
An out-of-sorts Ronaldinho missed Saturday's game with a calf injury and is a doubt for the visit of Real Zaragoza on Wednesday.
FIRST WINS UEFA Cup contenders Zaragoza have also struggled to get going this year and Victor Fernandez's outfit managed their first win against Osasuna only yesterday.
Along with Zaragoza, Atletico Madrid are expected to be pushing for a top four finish and had been under pressure for their first win.
Coach Javier Aguirre was feeling the heat from fans and the media alike beforethe visit of unbeaten Racing Santander on Sunday but his team claimed their first three-point haul with a 4-0 rout of their visitors.
''The difference between this game and those before was the team were more compact and more aggressive when competing for the ball,'' Aguirre said.
Importantly three of their expensive new signings Raul Garcia, Diego Forlan and Simao Sabrosa all got off the mark in the league.
Atletico, who are sixth, visit Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.
After demoralising defeats by Arsenal in the Champions League and to Barca in the league last week, Sevilla need to regroup to host Espanyol on Tuesday. They are fifth with a game in hand.
Reuters BJR RN1724