Two weeks ago, Real Madrid would not have expected to be chasing their rivals in the league standings. The men in white were placed comfortably above Barcelona and seemed set to head into the World Cup hiatus with a solid lead. However, the tables have turned in a matter of days.
A defeat and a loss in their last two league fixtures leave them hanging in second place with a five-point deficit to first-placed Barcelona. And they must tighten the noose against Cadiz tonight in order cut down that gap.
Sergio’s men are struggling in the first division this term and have just two wins in their 13 games. With eleven points, they sit in the relegation zone just over Elche.
One would expect Carlo Ancelotti’s men to obliterate their opponents on Thursday, but nothing can be said about a team that does not have momentum on its side.
The manager will be without Karim Benzema and Antonio Rudiger on the night, both of whom miss the clash through injury. Nevertheless, he will have Toni Kroos back after the German served his one-match ban.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Thursday’s clash at the Bernabeu.
1. Time to strike back
Carlo Ancelotti’s press conference statement aptly summarises Real Madrid’s situation and mentality heading into Thursday’s clash. When asked about his team’s recent defeats, the manager sternly stated that his men were angry at their situation and want to turn things around.
The players’ and the manager’s anger is justified, given the poor run of form Real Madrid have shown. It all began with a 3-2 defeat to RB Leipzig in Germany before they dropped points to Girona at the end of last month.
The final nail in the coffin came in the form of a painful defeat at Estadio de Vallecas when Los Blancos were completely outplayed in the ninety minutes. Their forward line looked blunt on the night and Rayo Vallecano clearly looked like the team that wanted the win more.
The loss in Madrid brought with it serious implications. Real Madrid conceded their table-top spot and gifted it to arch-rivals Barcelona with one game to spare before the World Cup. Moreover, the Blaugrana’s win over Osasuna at El Sadar means that even a win against Cadiz for Ancelotti’s men would not suffice to win back the pole position.
Nevertheless, the team must maintain a close gap with Barcelona and come up with a strong display at Bernabeu to sign off on high spirits.
2. Toni Kroos – a decisive difference
Toni Kroos has been and continues to be an extremely underrated component of Real Madrid’s midfield. The German international may not be the flashiest player on the field, but his influence on the team’s performance is massive.
When one looks back to the defeat to Rayo Vallecano earlier this week, it becomes increasingly clear that Los Blancos missed the midfield maestro dearly. In the end, his reckless red card against Girona proved extremely costly.
Kroos will be back in action for the team’s final game before the World Cup and is expected to start alongside Aurelien Tchouameni and Luka Modric. Given that the Frenchman was also injured for a while, Ancelotti will have his strongest midfield available again.
3. Who will step up in attack?
Real Madrid’s last game was very uncharacteristic in that the team seemed to struggle in the final third. Despite not having Karim Benzema for most of the season, the men in white have not struggled to find important goals across competitions. Yet, the front three looked overwhelmed at Vallecas.
Vinicius Jr made just 33 touches in 90 minutes and did not even complete a single dribble in the game, clearly showing that he was outside his comfort zone. His compatriot Rodrygo looked equally clueless, registering zero shots on target and missing one big chance.
Marco Asensio was the only Real Madrid forward who showed promise against Andoni Iraola’s men and is in line to get another start tonight. Yet, the big question will be whether Rodrygo and Vinicius can show their class without Benzema on the field, or whether the Ballon d’Or winner’s absence costs the team again.