With the UEFA Champions League parked to one side for now, Real Madrid return to focus on clawing back their chances to retain La Liga. This afternoon, the defending champions travel to face Celta Vigo at 16:15, hoping for the three points that will temporarily move Madrid into second place.
Following two 1-1 draws against Real Sociedad and then Atletico Madrid, Madrid left it late to win 2-1 against Elche, having been 1-0 down until the 73rd minute, and Karim Benzema completed a brace in stoppage time to seal the win. But their win against Atalanta which booked a quarter-final tie against Liverpool, was more impressive. Real definitely showed a vast improvement, and Zinedine Zidane also got everything right, from the team set-up, to the tactics, to the substitutions, everything worked.
As for the hosts, they’ve only won two of their previous 10 league games. But impressive draws against leaders Atletico Madrid, and a rejuvenated Athletic Club leave them in 9th place kicking off today. The goalless draw against Marcelino’s Athletic showed how defensively apt they can be, and there’s no doubt they’ll want to grab another valuable point as the champions roll into town.
Madrid have a good record against Celta, especially at Estadio de Balaídos. They haven’t lost in their last six league games there, winning five and drawing one, and have scored three goals in each of those five wins during this streak at Balaídos.
The key talking point
Against Athletic, Celta were so open. It was a somewhat entertaining goalless draw, because both sides allowed it to be an end-to-end game. Athletic should have probably won it, and had the bulk of the best chances, all coming via clever late runs into the box or via deliveries into the box. That’s were Celta tend to struggle. Even against Atletico in their 2-2 draw, all four goals were very similar. Atletico scored with low crosses in from either flank for Luis Suarez to tap-in, and Celta scored with two similar balls into the Ateltico box. It’s a problem Celta have, they struggle with teams in-behind their defence, so that combination on the left for Madrid – between Toni Kroos, Ferland Mendy and Vinicius Junior – is likely to be the area where Madrid look to dominate this match.
Vinicius was phenomenal against Atalanta in midweek, and it’s unlikely he’ll lose his starting spot. There’s a much better relationship between him and Karim Benzema now too, so there’s a real chance to see both Brazilian youngsters either side of Benzema this afternoon. Defensively, Madrid won’t have Sergio Ramos, but are capable of keeping Celta at bay. Playing Marcelo could be a risk, and an incentive for Iago Aspas and co. to overload the left side of Madrid, leaving Nacho exposed when Marcelo is bombing forward and leaving pockets of space for the hosts to attack into.
Will Zidane change formations back to a 4-3-3, or will he stick with a 3-5-2 as he did against Atalanta? That’s the key question, and the formation is undoubtedly going to impact the players he selects.
Celta won’t be able to call upon some important members of their squad. Ruben Blanco, Emre Mor and Sergio Alvarez are all injured, but Hugo Mallo is back and available after a one-game suspension. Key man and the team’s nucleus Aspas is available, with Santi Mina, Nolito and Brais Mendez all expected to start in and around Aspas in a lethal front-four on their day, capable of beating any team in the league.
The visitors have men back, but continue to be plagued. Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Odriozola, Mariano Diaz and Eden Hazard are all injured, while Ramos will be rested for this one so isn’t in the matchday squad. Casemiro will be back, after he was suspended for the Atalanta game, giving himself a nice rest.
The last time they met?
They faced off in matchday 17, when a goal and assist for both Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez earned Madrid a 2-0 win at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in January. Both might even get the nod to start in this game, after a solid performance from Lucas in midweek, and Asensio came off the bench to seal a 3-1 win for Madrid against the Serie A side, and progression through to the quarters.