Three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid
Real Madrid progressed to the Round of 16 of the Copa del Rey with a tight win over Cacereno midweek. Now, the focus turns to one of the biggest games in the foreseeable future – playing away at Villarreal.
The Merengues have not yet hit top gear since the restart of club football. Yet, it would be harsh to expect them to do so in just two matches after the mid-season break.
Carlo Ancelotti will put his best XI on the field at the Ceramica, but the midweek Spanish Super Cup semi-final clash against Valencia will undoubtedly factor into the manager’s decision too.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid’s testing game on Saturday afternoon.
1. A tale of five years
Facing a world-class team like Real Madrid is a gargantuan task even for the best clubs in the world. The very fact that the Spanish side are the reigning European champions speaks volumes about their resilience and quality.
Yet, their record against Villarreal is impeccably poor. More specifically, the men in white have a disastrous record playing at the Yellow Submarines’ den in recent years.
The last time Real Madrid won at Estadio de La Ceramica was in 2017 when the visitors made a stunning comeback from two goals down to win 3-2. To give context to the duration that has elapsed since, none of the goalscorers of that game – Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Alvaro Morata – are at the club anymore.
The next away clashes for Los Blancos against Villarreal in 2018 and 2019 ended in 2-2 draws. In 2020, they played out a tight 1-1 draw and their most recent game at La Ceramica ended in a goalless affair.
The numbers paint a misleading story, for the team’s struggles against Villarreal are not solely linked to the stadium. Last season, Real Madrid failed to put the ball past Villarreal in ninety minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu and even their home win against the yellow submarines in 2021 required an extra-time winner from Luka Modric.
As Ancelotti’s men prepare to step onto the grasses of the Ceramica once again, the objective on hand will be to turn around their fortunes at the stadium.
2. Has Rudiger done enough?
Not much can be said against a UEFA Champions League-winning central defensive combination. Last season, the duo of David Alaba and Eder Militao made the headlines for being impermeable even under pressure but the sailing has not been as smooth this term.
Part of the reason for Real Madrid’s relatively poor defensive numbers this season are the cracks in the Austrian-Brazilian combination. While Militao has held his high level, the same cannot be said about Alaba in 2022/23.
Thus, the doors could open for Antonio Rudiger in the second half of the season. The German international had a frustrating start to his Real Madrid career as he was denied a starting spot for months owing to Alaba’s reluctance to shift position.
The 29-year-old started Real Madrid’s first game after the restart alongside the Austrian international and churned out an impressive display not only in defence but also in the final third. As Militao returns into the thick of things, the manager could favour Rudiger to partner with the Brazilian.
3. The free-flowing attack
Ancelotti’s men might have walked away with a 2-0 win over Real Valladolid at Jose Zorilla last week, but the scoreline conveys a very misleading image with respect to the game.
80 minutes into the game, it was the hosts that seemed to be playing the better football. Valladolid were unlucky to not get the lead against Real Madrid, an event that would completely shift the dynamics of not only the game but the league standings.
Despite having just 39% of the possession, Pacheta’s men had four shots on target, five shots blocked and forced as many saves from Thibaut Courtois. In the end, a late penalty swung the game into the visitors’ favour before Benzema doubled their lead in the penultimate minute.
Going up against one of La Liga’s most attack-minded sides, Los Blancos will have to be on point on Saturday.
The hosts boast of a young, yet experienced defence in Juan Foyth and Pau Torres who will not make it easy for Benzema’s side. Needless to say, it will be a test of clinical finishing at La Ceramica and the forwards must polish their goalscoring boots for the big day.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid
Real Madrid take on Real Valladolid on Sunday as they return to La Liga action for the first time since the El Clasico defeat. The game at the Santiago Bernabeu will be crucial as a defeat for Real Madrid at this stage could seal the league title for their arch-rivals.
Their opponents on the day, Valladolid, sit in 15th place in La Liga with 28 points from 26 games. They have won only eight games so far in the league, losing 14 in the process.
There are this several key points to consider before the Merengues’ game at the weekend and the restart of club football. Madrid Universal brings you three such points.
1. Left-back issues persist
It was in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey that Ferland Mendy hobbled off injured. The Frenchman was out of action for close to two months from the last week of January, leaving Carlo Ancelotti without a natural backup.
The manager thus attempted to bridge the gap with the likes of Nacho Fernandez and Eduardo Camavinga, given that David Alaba was simultaneously experiencing fitness troubles of his own.
The makeshift left-backs did a reasonable job but were far from perfect. Time and time again, it became clear that oppositions were targetting the Merengues at their Achilles heel.
In Real Madrid’s clash against Barcelona in La Liga, Mendy made a return, coming on late in the second half in an effort to push for a winner. The impact of his arrival was evident, for there was a sudden awakening on the left flank in the final phase of the game.
Just when it seemed like he was set for a complete return, Mendy suffered an unfortunate setback once again. A blow to his left soleus muscle sees him out of action for another month at least, piling up the problems for Ancelotti.
It could thus be David Alaba who starts at left-back when Los Blancos play Real Valladolid, given that Nacho is suspended. Up against the tricky teenager Ivan Fresneda, the Austrian, who is returning from an injury, could face a tricky challenge.
2. Time is money
The international break is the biggest bane in club football because of the sheer disruption in the rhythm that it brings about.
The chemistry between the players is one of the most critical elements in professional football. That, however, only comes with repeated matches played with the same team with no breaks. For the players to switch setup to a whole different team for a matter of two weeks has historically proven detrimental to the club’s chemistry on the field.
Real Madrid did not end their last phase on a good note. However, the team played good football even in the Clasico defeat and had just beaten Liverpool before that.
For Los Blancos to live on in all competitions, it is crucial that they pick up where they left off before the international break in terms of quality. Heading into the first game of the restart, all eyes will be on the team’s chemistry.
Ancelotti’s men do not have a lot of time. They play three must-win games against quality opposition within a month – two UCL games against Chelsea and the cup semifinal against Barcelona. Thus, they cannot afford to waste much time regaining their lost understanding on the field. Time, after all, is money.
3. To compete or not to compete: That is the question
Owing to the defeat to Barcelona in the last matchday and the Catalans’ win over Elche on Saturday, Real Madrid sit 15 points behind league leaders Barcelona. There remain only 12 games in the league this season and a comeback for the men in white seems improbable.
Real Madrid thus face an important crossroad. One option for the club would be to forfeit the league mentally and utilise the remaining games to rotate important players and focus on UEFA Champions League and Spanish Cup. After all, they are the events where the team stands a higher chance of glory.
On the contrary would be the choice of giving all attractions the same importance. In such a situation, it would be difficult for the team to manage given the right schedule. Will Ancelotti’s men choose to sacrifice La Liga for the other competitions? Or will be a fight on all fronts? Only time will tell.