The points table of Group F in the UEFA Champions League aptly summarises the situation. Real Madrid sit comfortably in first place with six points with Shakhtar Donetsk closely behind with four. At the other end of the table, Celtic have just one point while RB Leipzig are surprisingly yet to open their account.
Matchday three sees the first and second-placed sides take on each other. A win for Real Madrid would give them a massive boost towards finishing on the top of the table while a loss would help the Ukrainians leapfrog Los Blancos.
Both sides have something to play for on Wednesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu and one can expect an attacking game. Both teams have scored five goals this season and will be hungry for more.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid’s midweek clash.
1. Modric back available for Real Madrid
Of all their stars on the roster, Luka Modric is the last player Real Madrid have wanted to be injured during the international break. For starters, the veteran is still the best midfielder in the team and quite often the difference maker who seals three points. More importantly, at 37 years of age, his fitness is a bigger concern.
Yet, the Croatian suffered a blow to his hip during the hectic hiatus from club football and Ancelotti’s side dropped points for the first time this season against Osasuna in their first game without him.
Now, as they head to the Champions League tie, Modric has returned to full fitness and is in line to feature against Shakhtar from kickoff.
There is little doubt that the Ballon d’Or winner is irreplaceable in Los Blancos’ setup. His ability to read the game, dictate the tempo and create chances out of thin air is something very few can dream of replicating. And his availability will come as a major boost for Carlo Ancelotti & co.
2. Focus on the captain
Coming back into the starting XI after close to a month, Karim Benzema missed a penalty against Osasuna that could have sealed all three points on the night. In 90 minutes, the Frenchman did not manage a single shot on target and hit the woodwork twice.
It would be harsh to say that Benzema’s start to the new season has been underwhelming. Yet, that is how it appears when one holds the striker against the astronomical standards he set for himself last season.
Statistically, the Ballon d’Or candidate has had an xG of over 7 across all competitions this season. Yet, he has found the back of the net only four times in what is an evident underperformance.
For a player of his quality, a single good game can turn around the season. Ancelotti will hope that the clash against the Ukrainians can be that special day for Benzema.
He will undoubtedly start on the night, donning the prestigious captain’s armband. All eyes will be on the French international, hoping to see leadership not only verbally but also by example.
3. One streak ends, but many more to come
Up until Sunday, Los Blancos boasted of a statistic that no other top European club could claim. The European Champions had not dropped a single point in eight games in La Liga and the Champions League, showing the world that they mean business this year.
However, that streak ended against Osasuna at the weekend when the Pamplona-based side held the hosts to a 1-1 draw. Indeed, it was a game that Real Madrid could have won had they been more clinical. Yet, as it is in the world of football, it was not the performance but only the scoreline that mattered.
Ancelotti’s side proved to the world last year why they are called the mentality monsters. Every time the team fell, they only used it as fuel to propel themselves to a greater height. That is precisely what the manager will hope his team can repeat on Wednesday.
Despite scoring 19 out of a possible 21 points in La Liga, Real Madrid find themselves second on the standings. With the race so tight, they will need longer and more consistent winning streaks to stay competitive and one would hope that the next such series of wins starts against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Granada | La Liga
Napoli fought tooth and nail for all three points against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier this week. They took the early lead in the first half, then fought back to find an equaliser after Real Madrid put two past them.
In the end, however, they were outdone by the hosts’ resilience and never-say-die attitude. The result thus registered Real Madrid’s fourth win on the trot and twelfth game without a defeat.
The men in white must now look ahead to their next La Liga game scheduled to kick off in just over 24 hours. Faced against Granada in a critical matchday, the aim will be to take all three points and thus maintain a healthy position in the standings.
Ancelotti announced some key recoveries in his pre-match press conference and also confirmed that Jude Bellingham would be fit to participate on the evening. Yet, he is concurrently in a difficult moment in terms of squad fitness.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Granada vs Real Madrid.
A clash of two poles
While Ancelotti’s Real Madrid sit lavishly on the top of La Liga’s standings, their opponents for Saturday afternoon have quite a contrasting fate. Granada sit on the other end of the league table and find themselves in a desolate situation 14 match days into the season.
Granada are currently 19th in La Liga with just one win in 14 games, and have changed managers, with Alexander Medina replacing Paco Lopez. They have lost a staggering nine games and walked away with one point on four occasions.
Granada have only scored 19 goals all season while conceding on 33 occasions. Comparing the numbers to Real Madrid’s 31 goals scored and nine goals conceded speaks volumes about the form of both teams heading into tomorrow’s clash.
The visitors’ last win in La Liga came back in August, and it is safe to say that a victory vs Real Madrid will do them a world of good. They will be the underdogs at the Bernabeu, but nothing is impossible considering that they drew with Barcelona not so long ago.
Saturday’s clash will thus be interesting, to say the least. With the injury-inflicted league leaders taking on a relegation-threatened side, the script cannot be predicted.
The rising phenomenon
Real Madrid’s injury crisis has not been easy on the manager. Ancelotti has been forced to rework his dynamics time and time again with a new player falling prey to the endless pit in every game.
The Italian is now in a situation where he has only four players left in the middle of the park. Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde, Jude Bellingham, and Dani Ceballos all started Real Madrid’s last game but it was young Nico Paz who stole the headlines.
The youngster has risen to prominence in Los Blancos’ latest injury emergency and his prominence has only increased over the past weeks. In the team’s latest outing against Napoli, he was on the field for close to half an hour and scored a crucial goal in the 84th minute.
With a tight schedule ahead and limited resources at his disposal, Ancelotti must look to rotate his men in midfield. Paz, on that front, is the Italian gaffer’s best choice and must look to make the most of his minutes tomorrow.
The golden chance
The biggest talking point from La Liga so far has been Girona’s stunning run at the beginning of the season. The Catalan side surprised everyone with win after win and stole the headlines by retaining the sole lead in the league until match day 13.
After six straight wins, Athletic Club broke Girona’s streak last weekend with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Estadi Montilivi. Having dropped two points, they are now level with Real Madrid in the standings with 35 points in 14 games.
It will thus be Ancelotti’s objective to take all three points against Granada and make a strong push towards taking the lead over Girona. After all, the co-leaders face a difficult opponent in Valencia and could well drop points.
Moreover, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are set to face off later this weekend. One, or both of the Spanish giants will drop points on the night, thus giving Real Madrid further impetus to gun for all three points tomorrow.
Considering the team’s good run of form in recent games, the dressing room will be confident about securing the much-needed result.