Match Preview: Elche vs Real Madrid
Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
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Real Madrid are back in La Liga action later this evening at 21:30 CET, after a week away from competition, as the defending champions travel to the Valencian Community of Elx, to face an Elche side which currently sits at the opposite end of the table to their visitors.

Zinedine Zidane oversaw an incredible revival in his team, as they reeled off six wins in a row, five of them coming in the league, seeing them reach the Christmas break level on points with city rivals Atletico Madrid at the summit, albeit, having played two games more than Atletico. It’s a run which has notably increased the confidence of Zidane’s core men, and if the run is to continue, he’ll need the entire squad to be hitting the same tune if they are to challenge for titles.

It’s a difficult time, between now and the end of the season, with no breaks, and injuries continue to hurt teams around Europe – and Real are no different. The schedule is rough, and games are coming thick and fast, and therefore, when you come up against an opponent which has only won three games from 13, and are struggling, it could be the ideal opportunity to test the match-readiness of some squad members. The hosts haven’t exactly exactly been scoring for fun, but they do average a little over a goal a game, but they have gone two games this month without scoring, those came against Villarreal and Granada.

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Jorge Almirón’s side come into this match against the reigning champions having only won once in their previous nine encounters, none of them in the league, the one win came in their first round Copa Del Rey match against non-league opponents Bunol. It’s a side which shouldn’t hurt Madrid or pose too much threat, although that’s what Valencia may have thought back in October, when Elche beat their city rivals 2-1.

The key talking points

Against Valencia, Elche were set up by head coach Almirón in a 3-4-2-1 formation, meaning Los Che were unable to get much success down the flanks. Because they were forced to come up with something through the middle, Elche held firm, and were able to keep them at arm’s length for the majority of the contest, until Kang-In Lee came on and cut open their final defensive line. Will they opt for a similar approach against Madrid though, a team which has struggled to break down low-block sides?

As far as Almirón goes, it must surely be a no-brainer, considering how open they were in their 3-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid, or last week’s 2-2 draw against Osasuna. In the two aforementioned games, Almirón reverted back to the 4-1-4-1, with Iván Marcone anchoring, sitting in front of the back-four, and when defending, the two midfielders would slot back making it a midfield trio with Marcone the deepest of the three. That then leaves a front three, where they can counter, and in an ideal world, if a few of the midfielders can join the transition, then in theory, they can hurt the opponents. But they don’t do transitions exceedingly well. One area in which they do thrive, is through the wide-men, and that’s where they’ll look to get at Madrid, particularly if Marcelo is preferred by Zidane over Ferland Mendy.

In essence, it shouldn’t be the toughest game for Madrid, and in reality, something would have to give from Madrid for it to become a banana skin. Elche aren’t a team which defends well, they’re not compact and as long as Madrid continue playing like they have done – includes recycling possession faster, always the first to the second ball, closing down spaces, double or even triple marking in certain areas of the pitch – Madrid should come through this unscathed. It would be good to see Eden Hazard and Martin Ødegaard both starting, which means Luka Modric isn’t risked immediately after recovering from a muscle overload, but also, both players will help a lot if Elche head coach Almirón decides to go for a cagey approach that worked wonders against Valencia. In that case, Madrid will need Hazard drifting in, with Ødegaard positioning himself in key passing lanes to try and break the defensive lines which await them. All in all, after the Christmas break, there’s always a concern about players zoning out, and so this contest is pretty much on a platter for Madrid – come back and pick up a simple three points.

Team news

The home side could again be without the services of Omenuke Mfulu, and Diego Gonzalez is also a doubt. It’s likely that they’ll go with the same side which got a point against Osasuna, although, that could change if there’s a significant alteration in terms of formation and tactical approach.

For Zidane, he had his entire squad back for the first time this season, but that lasted for less than a week. Rodrygo Goes is the only player unavailable to the Frenchman, after the teenager suffered a hamstring tear which could keep him out for up to three months.

The last time they met?

These two sides have only ever met four times, all in La Liga. Real have won every contest, with an aggregate of 12-2, and the most recent fixture was back in February 2015. Real won 2-0 at today’s venue – the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero – courtesy of goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.

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