Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Celta Vigo
Barcelona’s two draws in their last two La Liga appearances have seen them drop four of a possible six points. Under normal circumstances, the gap between Real Madrid and the leaders should have been reduced by the same number. However, the Merengues‘ loss to Villarreal changed the equation.
With nine games to go, the Catalans’ lead is a healthy 11 points. However, they face Atletico Madrid at the weekend and could well drop points again.
Real Madrid’s clash against Celta Vigo tonight thus becomes critical. A win on Saturday would reduce the deficit to eight points and put pressure on Xavi Hernandez’s side to toil hard against a stingy opposition.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of the clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.
1. A schedule with no respite
The tail end of the season in the football world is always hectic for Europe’s elite. With all competitions nearing their business end simultaneously, there is rarely scope to take a game for granted.
While it is true that a true champion should be able to weather any storm, there is a certain human element to be considered. In that sense, it is inhuman for Real Madrid to play a game every three days for months at end.
The Merengues‘ deep run into the UEFA Champions League has seen them play midweek regularly in addition to the weekly matchdays of La Liga. Add to that the games from Copa del Rey and one can imagine the exhausting schedule that stares down at the club.
Carlo Ancelotti openly talked about the impossible schedule his team were faced with and the practical difficulties of rolling out performances at the highest level with such frequency. Having less than 72 hours to recuperate between games regularly, the risk of injuries rises significantly too.
The Spanish Champions took on Chelsea in the first leg on the 12th of April before facing Cadiz 72 hours later. They again had just three days before the second leg at Stamford Bridge kicked off and now play Celta Vigo less than a week later.
There is an urgent need to look into players’ welfare, especially on the topic of tight scheduling. After all, it is almost criminal for UEFA to not accommodate a team’s pre-existing schedule while drafting their fixtures.
2. Permutations and combinations
Carlo Ancelotti’s only scope of escaping an overload on his stars on the night will be to smartly rotate his resources without compromising the quality on the field. Given the gold mine of resources the Italian tactician has at his disposal, it should not be a worry.
Eder Militao and Antonio Rudiger could start as the centre-backs against the Galician side with Nacho Fernandez and Lucas Vazquez playing as left-back and right-back respectively.
More thorough changes are expected in the middle of the park. Aurelien Tchouameni will almost surely start as the pivot on Saturday and look to regain his lost starting berth. He will most likely be accompanied by Dani Ceballos and Federico Valverde in all probability.
Ancelotti confirmed Karim Benzema’s availability and participation in his press conference and the Frenchman could start on the night. He will likely be accompanied by Marco Asensio to his right and Vinicius Jr to his left, with Rodrygo being given a break.
3. The Pichichi race
At the halfway mark in La Liga, Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski appeared as the runaway favourite to take home the Pichichi Award. However, the story now is far different.
The race for the top league scorer is now heating up, especially given Karim Benzema’s red-hot form and the Polish striker’s exponential fall in productivity. The end result is only a three-goal difference between the two.
Barcelona’s target man has found the back of the net 17 times this season in 25 appearances. Benzema, meanwhile, has 14 in just 19 games.
It is said that the French striker is obsessed with winning the Pichichi trophy this season and is willing to take part in every Real Madrid game until the end of the season to ensure it happens. Given his recent record in front of goal, it would not take long for Benzema to overtake Lewy.
The 35-year-old striker has seven goals and an assist in his last six games despite not completing most of the aforementioned matches. He has rediscovered his form in recent weeks, and the spotlight on Saturday will thus be on him to see if he can take another step towards Barcelona’s candidate.
Real Madrid vs Athletic Club: End of an era, farewells, tight race for second place
Real Madrid will walk down the tunnel of Santiago Bernabeu one last time this season on Sunday night. The men in white are pitted against Athletic Club on their final match-day, and the game will not be an easy affair by any means.
The Basque side sit in seventh place on the league standings with 50 points in 37 appearances. However, their qualification for the UEFA Conference League is in danger with Osasuna lurking close behind with an equal number of points.
Anything less than a win could prove insufficient for the visitors and it is clear that they arrive at Santiago Bernabeu with nothing less than a win on their agenda. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Athletic Club Bilbao.
1. The end of an era for the number 9 shirt?
The grey area around Karim Benzema’s future has only widened in recent days. From a situation where his continuity at Real Madrid was taken for granted, it did not take long for the Frenchman’s story to enter a steep deviation.
An economically tempting proposal from Saudi Arabia had Benzema seriously contemplating a move away from Santiago Bernabeu, and reports stated that his departure from the Spanish club was close to complete.
The world, thus, looked in anticipation of his next official interaction with the media. The Ballon d’Or winner publicly addressed the topic for the first time earlier this week, and it is safe to say that his words gave nothing away.
Benzema neither confirmed nor completely refuted the rumours of his exit to the media. His situation is balanced on the blade of a knife and could tip in either direction.
In that sense, there is a good chance that tomorrow’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu is Karim Benzema’s final game for Real Madrid. If the striker does choose to change loyalties, it would mark the end of an era for the team’s number nine position.
It has been over a decade since the Frenchman took over the prestigious kit. He has played 647 games for the club so far in his career, scoring a stunning 353 goals in the process. Of them, 98 have been match-winning contributions.
2. A day of farewells
Earlier today, Real Madrid announced the departure of Marco Asensio from the club. The Spanish winger appears set to sign for PSG for the 2023-24 season and will bid adieu on Sunday. However, he will not be the only player playing his final game for the club tomorrow.
Nacho Fernandez has been a critical part of Real Madrid’s success in recent years but is another name close to sealing an exit. The defender is not satisfied with the playing time under his belt at the club and has not yet responded to the renewal offer on his table.
With his contract running out in less than 30 days, he appears closer to leaving than staying. One can expect an announcement from Nacho on Sunday night after the game at the Bernabeu, which could be his final game in white.
The situation with Dani Ceballos is quite similar. The Spanish midfielder is still undecided on his future, although there is still a slight chance he could continue at the club. Staying on the subject of players making their final appearance, however, he could be one on the list.
Away from the stories of incomplete renewal negotiations, Mariano Diaz is one player whose departure from the club is confirmed. Ferland Mendy, Jesus Vallejo, Alvaro Odriozola and Eden Hazard are some of the other candidates well-placed to make departures, although nothing can be said for sure.
3. A tight race for second place
There is not much to play for on Sunday night except for the emotional tag of it being the season’s final game. Yet, the men in white will not be without an objective against Athletic Club.
Los Blancos sit on 77 points in 37 league appearances this season and just have a one-point lead over third-placed Atletico Madrid. Needless to say, they must be vary of their position on the standings for any complacency could see them drop down the ladder.
Diego Simeone’s men take on fifth-placed Villarreal at the same time as Real Madrid’s game against Athletic Club. Even if Carlo Ancelotti’s men settle for a draw against the Basque side, the second place would be Atletico Madrid’s to lose.
With both games kicking off simultaneously, there will be nerves throughout the ninety minutes in Madrid. One can only hope for action-filled games to keep the anxiety and adrenaline high.