Three talking points ahead of Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s 4-2 demolition of Almeria at the weekend was the most fitting response to their defeat to Girona by the same scoreline on Matchday 31. It was a comprehensive 90-minute display from the defending champions who got back to winning ways on the evening.
Just three days after their last league encounter, the men in white take to the field again on Tuesday and face a stiffer challenge this time around. Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad stare them in the eye and will be looking to capitalise on Los Blancos‘ hectic calendar.
Carlo Ancelotti has several dilemmas ahead of the game and faces certain crossroads that could alter the course of his team’s season. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid.
1. The greater objective
Real Sociedad are amongst the more dreaded La Liga oppositions in Spain. The Basque side have seen a solid rise in recent seasons and are even knocking on the doors for Champions League qualification with six games remaining.
La Real sit fourth in the league standings, eight points behind Atletico Madrid and ten below Real Madrid. Moreover, they took two points off Carlo Ancelotti’s men at a crucial juncture earlier in the season.
There is little doubt that the clash at Reale Arena will have no shortage of action. However, one knows that Real Madrid have another objective in mind and it is the hosts who will want the win more on Tuesday.
Real Madrid play the Copa del Rey final later in the week before taking on Manchester City early next week in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal. A win would no doubt keep the momentum on their side, but one knows that the critical games ahead will force Ancelotti back into his cage with certain decisions.
Going up against a stronger opposition on one side and a ruthless calendar on the other, the Italian manager must choose from one of two options. Go all out against Real Sociedad and prioritise the momentum ahead of individual players or risk losing to one of Spain’s in-form teams for the greater good.
2. A suspension of two colours
Vinicius Jr’s booking against Almeria was his tenth of the season and thus forces him to undergo the mandatory one-game suspension for the second time this season. He will thus not be available to menace La Real’s defence at Reale Arena.
The Brazilian’s absence is a big blow to Carlo Ancelotti’s plans, for Vinicius is indispensable for the team in every way. Not only is every attack orchestrated through the winger, but he also forms a critical part of maximising Karim Benzema’s output on the field.
At the same time, one knows that his suspension could not have come at a better time. Forced to operate without the Brazilian magician, Ancelotti will be gifted with a fully fit and rested Vinicius for the three decisive games that come ahead.
The manager could thus look to give Marco Asensio a start against Sociedad. The Spaniard has been phenomenal in his few minutes this term and is a deserved candidate to start. He will likely be joined by Karim Benzema and Rodrygo in the final third.
3. The Pichichi
Karim Benzema did not have the best of starts to his 2022/23 season. A combination of injuries and a lack of form saw him far from his best for most of the campaign. Moreover, the events of the FIFA World Cup took a big toll on his confidence.
However, everything has turned around in recent weeks. The Ballon d’Or winner has shown exactly why he hosted the coveted trophy last year and has been unstoppable in front of goal.
Benzema has three hat-tricks in his last eight appearances across all competitions. Most recently he put three past Almeria at the weekend.
His red-hot form has seen the Frenchman right back into the debate for the Pichichi Trophy. Robert Lewandowski appeared to be the outright favourite to walk away with the honour a few weeks ago but that is no longer the case.
Only two goals separate the duo on the top-scorers chart. With every passing game, Benzema is closing the gap and is now poised to overtake the Polish striker.
With 17 goals this season, Benzema is just two goals away from levelling at the top and Tuesday could just be the day he proves his class and takes the lead.
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.