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Three talking points ahead of Real Betis vs Real Madrid | La Liga

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Matchday 16 presents some of La Liga’s most fascinating clashes from a standings point of view. Barcelona and Girona take on each other in a massive clash at the top of the table, while co-leaders Real Madrid also face tough competition in Real Betis.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men currently sit in seventh place on the table with 25 points in 15 games. They are just a point off a place in the European berths and enter Saturday’s clash in impressive form.

Real Betis are unbeaten in Spain in their last 12 games, with their only defeats since September coming in the UEFA Europa League. Their last defeat in La Liga came against Barcelona close to three months ago.

Travelling to Benito Villmarin, it will thus not be easy for Real Madrid, especially considering the situation they are in from a fitness standpoint.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Betis vs Real Madrid.

The latest blow

Real Madrid just cannot catch a break with injuries. The men in white already boast a long list of players ruled out for both the short and long term, and the list only got longer after the weekend’s clash against Granada.

During the last game, Dani Carvajal left the field injured and was replaced by Lucas Vazquez at half-time. Tests eventually confirmed that the veteran had suffered a blow to the calf muscle of his left leg, ruling him out for the rest of the month.

The first-choice right-back’s injury, needless to say, only aggravates the wounds Carlo Ancelotti’s side are combating. After all, Carvajal was in great form this season, scoring two goals and providing two assists in La Liga.

Two options stand out to the manager in view of the latest situation – Nacho Fernandez and Lucas Vazquez. The former has played more minutes this season but the latter serves as a like-for-like deputy at right-back.

Ancelotti thus has some tweaks to make in his formation ahead of kickoff against Los Verdiblancos. His decision could not only impact the result on Saturday night but also the club’s long-term planning for the right-back position for next season.

An opponent in equal jeopardy

Manuel Pellegrini will be without a host of key players. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

A lot can be said about Real Madrid’s struggles ahead of the clash on Match day 16. With Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni, Vinicius Jr, and now Dani Carvajal out through injury, the men in white are indeed without some of their biggest names.

However, Real Betis find themselves in a similar, if not worse situation. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are plagued with absences across the field and enter one of their most difficult games severely short-staffed.

As it stands, seven players are set to be unavailable for Real Betis on the day. Guido Rodriguez, Marc Bartra, Claudio Bravo, Rodri, and William Carvalho all will miss the clash on Saturday through injury while Hector Bellerin will miss the game through suspension.

Perhaps the team’s biggest blow, however, is the precarious situation of Nabil Fekir who is also likely to sit the game out through injury.

Betis’ situation is indeed unfortunate, for the game is absolutely critical for their pursuit of a European berth. Yet, Ancelotti’s side, plagued by their own worries, will be delighted to have a slightly easier road to keeping their position on the top of the table.

After all, one or both of Barcelona and Girona will drop points on match day 16, helping Los Blancos atop the standings.

Situation between the sticks

“Kepa is back and it’s good to have two great goalkeepers. I will choose tomorrow,” Ancelotti said in his pre-match press conference when asked about arguably his biggest dilemma ahead of Saturday’s clash.

Having signed Kepa Arrizabalaga as a direct replacement for the injured Thibaut Courtois, everything was going well in Madrid. The Spaniard took over as the team’s new regular goalkeeper, with Andriy Lunin serving as an able backup.

Everything changed when Kepa found himself ruled out through injury last month. The Spaniard’s absence paved the way for Lunin to find a place in the manager’s starting lineup, and boy did the Ukrainian step up.

Over the team’s past five games, the 24-year-old has given the manager no reason to displace him from the lineup. He was one of the team’s biggest match-winners against SC Braga exactly one month ago, and every performance thereafter has seen him go to greater strengths.

It will thus be interesting to see how the Italian gaffer manages the delicate situation in goal. Will he stick with the in-form Ukrainian or revert to his initial trusted option?

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Three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Jude Bellingham, Vinicius Jr, Federico Valverde and Arda Guler were all on target when Real Madrid demolished Deportivo Alaves by a 5-0 scoreline midweek.

The win at the Santiago Bernabeu took the team to 93 points in La Liga, with the champion status already earned. The target now, however, is to reach the magical number of 99 points.

Tomorrow, Los Blancos step on the field for their penultimate league clash of the season as they lock horns against Villarreal.

Their opponents, currently placed eighth in the league, are fighting for a place in Europe and must win tomorrow at Estadio de La Ceramica if they are to remain in the race.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid.

Can Bellingham maintain the steam?

Jude Bellingham’s dip in form towards the end of the season raised many concerns in the Real Madrid offices over his fitness and physical state. A mini ‘pre-season’ was said to be in the manager’s plan, especially keeping Bellingham’s recovery in mind.

The young midfielder, however, started the team’s game against Deportivo Alaves once more despite rumours of him being rested and dished out a classic on the night. His performance, in many senses, was one that announced his return to form.

In 90 minutes against Alaves, Bellingham scored one goal and provided two assists as the game ended 5-0 in Real Madrid’s favour.

Furthermore, the former Borussia Dortmund star recorded a staggering 121 touches, 99 passes, six key passes and created one big chance. He also completed four dribbles on the night and participated in eight defensive actions.

It thus becomes a serious question ahead of tomorrow’s clash as to how Carlo Ancelotti plans on managing Bellingham’s minutes.

The obvious approach would be to field the youngster from the start and reward his improved performance at the weekend. Concurrently, however, there is concern over the midfielder being overused which inhibits the manager from such a move.

Will Bellingham start against Villarreal or will the likes of Brahim Diaz or Arda Guler get a deserved start? Only time will tell.

Lunin’s heroic exit

Thibaut Courtois’ injury before the commencement of the new season left Real Madrid with a crisis in goal. The repercussions of the blow, however, were not as dire as expected courtesy of Andriy Lunin’s exceptional performances.

Lunin could play his final game of the season vs Villarreal. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Despite starting the campaign behind Kepa Arrizabalaga on the pecking order, the Ukrainian international has done enough to become the team’s primary goalkeeper across all competitions.

Only Courtois’ return last month displaced him from the starting lineup as the manager prioritised bringing the Belgian superstar back to full fitness.

Real Madrid now plan on starting Courtois for the big UCL final at Wembley next month.

While unfair on Lunin who deserves the start, one cannot blame Ancelotti for relying on the player who single-handedly kept the team in the game the last time they featured in a European final.

With Courtois set to start against Real Betis and Borrusia Dortmund, tomorrow could well be Lunin’s final game of the season for Real Madrid and the 25-year-old will look to depart with a bang.

Momentum is paramount

Real Madrid have already been crowned the champions of La Liga, and every game that remains in the competition at this point only serves as a practice encounter for the big challenge that lies ahead.

Los Blancos take on Borussia Dortmund in the finale of the UCL early next month, and only two games remain before the season-defining encounter. A lot, needless to say, will depend on how Ancelotti manages his squad for the two matches that lie ahead.

Considering that the calendar is no longer as hectic as it was a month ago, the manager could well field his best XI against Villarreal aiming to keep the momentum going for his side. After all, it is paramount at this stage in the season.

At the same time, however, the manager must rotate his squad ahead to give fringe players some deserved minutes and balance the playing time of regular starters.

Los Blancos, at this point, are unbeaten in 23 games across all competitions and have the momentum fairly on their side. Maintaining it with a positive result tomorrow irrespective of the final decision on the extent of rotations will thus be crucial for the Merengues.

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