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

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

There are not many clubs in world football that Real Madrid have a poor record against. The European giants are one of football’s most deadly force, and it is not often that a certain side can repeatedly frustrate the men in white.

Villarreal, however, is one such nemesis that brings up unpleasant memories. A deeper look at recent results highlights the same.

Between 2018 and 2023, the two Spanish sides have met 13 times across various competitions. Of them, they have drawn a stunning six times, lost thrice and won just four times.

Their most recent meeting, at the Santiago Bernabeu last season, ended in a 3-2 win for the Yellow Submarine.

Villarreal have not enjoyed a pleasant start to the new season this time around, and currently languish in fourteenth place with just 16 points in as many appearances. Nevertheless, they will be confident heading into the clash against Real Madrid keeping their head-to-head record in mind.

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

The central figure

Real Madrid’s comeback win over Barcelona in El Clasico left the men in white in paradise. There was not much to complain about for Carlo Ancelotti’s side after the game, although Aurelien Tchouameni’s injury after the game left the administration in a spot of bother.

The French midfielder had been Los Blancos’ most vital player at the base of midfield, after all, and was one of the first names on the teamsheet. To lose him for two months without a direct replacement appeared to be an uphill task.

Miraculously, Tchouameni has recovered fully and is already training with the group. In fact, there are reports that he could make a complete return as early as the team’s upcoming game against Villarreal.

Toni Kroos has manned the defensive midfield in recent games in light of injuries to both Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga. The 23-year-old’s early return thus brings a lot to Ancelotti’s table.

For starters, the manager could start with his best pivot playing in his niche tomorrow, for the Frenchman has been in sublime form this season. Moreover, it frees Kroos from the shackles of the DMF slot and gives the manager freedom to deploy the veteran genius as an interior.

Goalkeeping dilemma

Making a big impression. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

Andriy Lunin has been knocking on the doors of the Real Madrid starting lineup for a long time now. However, what the Ukrainian star was lacking was continuity in terms of opportunities to impress.

Thibaut Courtois’ injury early in the season appeared to be his moment to shine, but the management opted to rope in Kepa Arrizabalaga as a replacement. The Spaniard then took over as the first-choice goalkeeper, pushing Lunin back to the sidelines.

Kepa’s injury finally gave the 24-year-old the required pedestal. He was rewarded with six consecutive starts, right from the 3-2 win over SC Braga to the 1-1 draw against Real Betis. Over the 540 minutes he was offered, he delivered enough to impress and demand a bigger role.

As relayed earlier this week, Ancelotti sees no reason to drop Lunin for the starting lineup as it stands. He handed Kepa the start midweek against Union Berlin, but the manager faces a serious dilemma over the goalkeeping position heading into the weekend’s clash.

Lunin is worthy of the start, and the regular role in the lineup, purely based on recent form. Yet, one cannot help but admit that Kepa has done no wrong either. It remains to be seen whom the Italian gaffer backs in the coming clashes.

Spotlight on Joselu?

Joselu has been the ideal gentleman since Real Madrid signed him in the summer. His clear-cut understanding of the role he serves helps all parties involved, and the same is visible in his performances.

The 33-year-old is far from a regular starter for the men in white this season, but that does not perturb Joselu. With zero fuss, no melodrama, and absolute maturity, he steps onto the field and delivers whenever called on.

Joselu has only started eight of the sixteen league games he has played for Real Madrid this season, averaging 52 minutes per game. Yet, he has scored five goals and provided two assists for the Merengues and is pushing to make his move to the Spanish capital permanent.

Earlier this week, the Italian gaffer called on the Spanish forward to start Real Madrid’s UCL clash against Union Berlin. He did not disappoint, as he pioneered the Merengues’ comeback from a goal down with a wonderful brace.

With Vinicius Jr still on the sidelines through injury, Ancelotti could thus be tempted to offer Joselu a second consecutive start tomorrow night. After all, he strikes up a good partnership with Rodrygo and provides a lethal presence in front of goal.

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Kroos, Courtois start in a 4-3-3: How Real Madrid could lineup against Real Betis

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Photo via Getty Images

Having won the league comfortably after accumulating 94 points in 37 games, Real Madrid’s main objective for the last game of the season, set to go ahead tomorrow, against Real Betis, would be to finish on 97 points.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side are coming off a 4-4 draw against Villarreal last weekend, Madrid will be looking to end the domestic season with a win, which would also serve as a huge confidence boost ahead of their Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund.

Reports have suggested that Ancelotti is alternating his lineup ahead of the UCL final to keep his troops fit and gunning. And after rotations last week against Villarreal, all signs point towards the best XI taking the field vs Betis.

Keeping that in mind, Madrid Universal takes a jab at the 14-time Champions League winners’ final starting lineup of the season for their game against Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis.

Defence: Militao or Nacho?

Andriy Lunin returned to guard the posts against Villarreal, which could be a sign that Ancelotti is preparing to use Thibaut Courtois as his goalkeeper against Dortmund. As such, we expect the Belgian to handle the gloves tomorrow.

Daniel Carvajal is expected to replace Lucas Vazquez as the right-back, while Ferland Mendy returns to take over his left-back role.

Antonio Rudiger’s spot does not seem to be in any threat at all, but there are question marks over who will start alongside him, especially on the back of Eder Militao’s disastrous performance vs Villarreal.

Consequently, Nacho might get the nod tomorrow, especially since it could be his last game for Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Midfield: Farewell Toni

While Nacho’s future is still up in the air, Toni Kroos announced his decision to leave Madrid at the end of the season on a free transfer. He will play his final game at home tomorrow, and is expected to get a huge farewell.

Kroos’ last game in Madrid colours. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Federico Valverde will aid him in midfield, playing on the right side of the trident, while Eduardo Camavinga starts as the defensive midfielder to cover for the injured Aurelien Tchouameni.

Attack: No doubts

The attack pretty much picks itself, especially if Ancelotti is truly planning on mirroring the lineup that will likely start the Champions League final as well.

Jude Bellingham will retain his spot as the false 9, playing slightly off left as he has done more so in recent weeks.

Brazilian powerhouse Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo will get the license to start as the two forwards up top, playing in front of Bellingham.

Off the bench

Joselu will almost definitely get some minutes tomorrow, and more than likely in the Champions League final as well, especially owing to his brilliance against Bayern Munich in the semi-finals.

Similarly, Ancelotti could opt to experiment with Luka Modric in midfield in the second half, especially if Tchouameni does not make it back in time to full fitness ahead of the final.

Eder Militao and Arda Guler are also in for some minutes tomorrow, with the latter on the scoresheet four time sin the last three games.

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