When Real Madrid and Girona met earlier in the season, not many saw it with the same hype there is around the clash today. Los Blancos put three goals past the Catalans and inflicted on them their first defeat of the season in the game at Estadi Montilivi.
15 match days later, that continues to be the only defeat of Girona’s league calendar. The Catalans have exceeded all expectations and are genuine title contenders in La Liga, possibly even the only competition Real Madrid face in the race.
Michel’s men have just one defeat in their last 20 games across all competitions and boast of La Liga’s most incisive attack. They have scored 52 goals this season, more than any of their competitors, while Real Madrid have scored 48 in comparison.
As the two sides lock horns once more, this time at Santiago Bernabeu, the world will have its eyes on the clash that is rightfully now called Spain’s premium clash.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Girona.
Shaping up the race
Carlo Ancelotti’s press conference ahead of the weekend’s clash was long and covered numerous topics. Yet, he repeatedly emphasised the deep respect Real Madrid maintained towards Girona for their incredible run this season and how they would battle them as they would battle any other elite opposition.
In that respect, the title race is secondary. Irrespective of who wins the title eventually, the 2023-24 campaign will go down in history as Girona’s season to remember – a year of ecstasy where they touched the stars.
The Catalans are well placed in the title race 23 games into La Liga this season, currently sitting on 56 points with just one defeat. Real Madrid sit on 58 points and are well within reach of Michel’s men.
The result tomorrow night, thus, will go a long way in shaping up the title race in Spain. No result will be decisive, but a Girona win would take them to the top of the table with one point more than Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, a win for Carlo Ancelotti’s men would solidify their lead, extending it to five points and vastly improving their chances of taking home the title. A title decider, and a worthy one in that.
News from the Real Madrid camp in recent days has all been centred around the centre-back department. Having suffered blow after blow, the department currently has no fit members, putting immense pressure, and uncertainty, in the manager’s plans.
David Alaba and Eder Militao are far from the conversation, while Nacho Fernandez is also ruled out. The only defender with a chance of featuring is Antonio Rudiger, but Ancelotti confirmed in his press conference that the German was still not at 100%. His status will be evaluated before kickoff.
It is thus likely that Los Blancos enter tomorrow’s vital clash with no fit centre-backs, throwing Ancelotti into the deep end. The manager has only makeshift options remaining to pick from, but luckily for him, two boast of reasonable experience.
Dani Carvajal stood out in central defence against Atletico Madrid and could start there again tomorrow. He will likely be joined by Aurelien Tchouameni who has served as the manager’s first-choice unconventional centre-back this campaign.
Needless to say, a big part of tomorrow’s result will depend on how the defensive pairing shapes up and how Girona attempt to capitalise on the same.
The Diaz factor
Vinicius Jr’s last-minute injury against Los Rojiblancos opened the doors for Brahim Diaz to start on the night. For 71 minutes, the youngster stood out on the field and dished out a performance to remember, bringing the Santiago Bernabeu on its feet.
The Spanish attacking midfielder scored the team’s only goal on the night with an ice-cool finish and even came very close to doubling the lead in the second half. He completed a stunning four dribbles, won seven duels and created three key passes on the night.
Diaz’s impact against the Colchoneros, thus, is only deserving of a follow-up start. However, Vinicius’ return to fitness does not leave the manager with a place in the starting XI to reward the youngster.
Ancelotti must thus choose between Rodrygo Goes, who has been misfiring in recent games, and Brahim Diaz. Each player brings his own tactical flavour and profile to the table, and a big part of the decision will depend on the team’s system on the night.
Real Madrid 1-0 Sevilla: Player Ratings
Following Barcelona’s convincing 4-0 win against Getafe yesterday, the onus was on Real Madrid to reinstate the eight-point gap between the sides as they hosted Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu today.
Lucas Vazquez opened the scoring for los blancos after ten minutes, but the goal was controversially disallowed for a foul on Youssef En-Nesyri in the build-up.
Madrid found it difficult to unlock Sevilla’s defence after that, with the first-half ending 0-0 after just one shot on target from both teams combined.
Madrid started the second 45 with more intent, creating some better scoring opportunities, but were left without success until an unbelievable effort from Luka Modric scathed the post and went in.
Sergio Ramos put in a wonderful performance on his return to the Santiago Bernabeu for Sevilla, but it was not enough as Madrid escaped with all three points and an eight-point lead on top of the table.
Andriy Lunin: 8
Was not called into action in the first-half, and was pretty much faultless in possession. But made an incredible save off Romero’s effort in the second half and was extremely proactive collecting crosses, too. Game-changing.
Lucas Vazquez: 7
Did a good job overlapping and was unlucky that his goal was disallowed. Did well to deal with Romero and Ocampos defensively.
Antonio Rudiger: 6.5
Rudiger was lucky that Romero and En-Nesyri did not convert their efforts from close range, as he often left space in behind. Went up to attack with the score at 0-0, too, but came back fruitless.
Was substituted off after 75 minutes after an mostly average display. Again, lucky that he was not punished for the space he left behind.
Ferland Mendy: 7
A few decent moves for Mendy today, but for the most part, his inability to overlap properly gave Vinicius too much to do.
Federico Valverde: 8
By far the most active midfielder today, Valverde was everywhere. Ran the show for Madrid, both in possession and stopping counter attacks before they even started. Missed the easiest chance of the game, though.
Aurelien Tchouameni: 6.5
Did his job as the 6 well, kept the game ticking and kept finding the spare man in midfield. Moved back to the defence eventually, and came away with a clean sheet.
Toni Kroos: 7
With Madrid struggling to break through Sevilla’s defence, Kroos was tasked with a lot of deep progression. Created some tame chances here and there, but failed to find properly find a man through.
Brahim Diaz: 7.5
Kept Kike Salas and Ocampos on their toes, making some tremendous solo runs from deep, but was often left without support. Created a brilliant chance for Valverde, that was scuffed.
Did not take many risks in possesion, but was crucial in Vinicius and Brahim finding space on the wing by offering support.
Vinicius Jr: 7.5
With the Sevilla defence looking very organised, the onus was on Vinicius to create something out of nothing. He attempted a few different things, including flicking the ball over players and attempting shots from distance, but all unsuccessful.
Has to be credited for the effort, though, especially with the rest of the team lacking.
Luka Modric: 8.5
Super-sub Luka Modric coming in clutch for Madrid today with his wonder goal from outside the box. Was also brilliant in possession, increasing the tempo of the game.