Real Madrid will be looking to secure their first win of the new La Liga season, when they travel to face Real Betis later today, in a contest which will kick off at 21:00 CEST in Seville.
But it promises to be a difficult game for the defending champions, with their opponents sat joint top of the table with two wins from two, and they’re also yet to concede a goal. Both games have seen Betis dominate their opponents Deportivo Alaves and Real Valladolid respectively, as their resurgence and evolution continues under Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean head coach won’t be the only familiar face for Madrid today, and that’s because Betis have a new man in between the goal posts, former Barcelona man Claudio Bravo will be tasked to keep his record of clean-sheets going, against a Los Blancos attack which badly needs some confidence.
Away at Real Sociedad last weekend, Zinedine Zidane’s champions dominated the game, but it was the hosts which had the best opportunities of the evening, in what was a goalless draw. The contest felt more like a pre-season friendly from Madrid’s perspective, which is why there are tons of questions heading into this second match, and loads of solutions Zidane needs to find on the road once more.
Key talking point
It will be interesting to see how Zidane shapes his starting XI. Against Sociedad, he went with three midfielders, but no Casemiro, and instead rolled the dice and introduced Martin Ødegaard from the outset. The Norwegian didn’t have enough opportunities to dominate the game in the advanced positions that he thrives in. Occasionally, in transitions, he did find himself in them, but on a negative note, there weren’t many runners in-behind, and therefore, he wasn’t able to make as many vertical balls which is why he was on the pitch. Ødegaard is going to be key once more on Saturday. His ability to combine the midfield with the attack with a single ball is what Real missed throughout last season, and it’s the only way Zidane is going to create more goalscoring opportunities for his attackers, but the key is, the likes of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior need to making those runs. Against Sociedad, far too often, Benzema would be dropping deep into the channels where Ødegaard operates in, if Benzema is there, Ødegaard would be collecting it deeper, or out wide, and would look up to see no one in the box.
What would be nice is to see a midfield four of Casemiro, Fede Valverde, Toni Kroos and Ødegaard. The former three can act as a traditional trio, and Ødegaard can play at the tip of them, behind Vinicius and Benzema in a front two. That brings the 21-year old closer to the attackers, and with Valverde’s presence, Ødegaard wouldn’t need to make a defensive impact. It’s worth trying, because with Valverde and Casemiro on the pitch, it allows for Dani Carvajal to make overlapping runs on the right, which opens up another avenue for Ødegaard to penetrate with his vision. But the key to it all is Ødegaard.
Madrid’s squad list was as expected. The three major absentees are Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Eder Militao, all three continue to work in preparation for match-fitness. Mariano Diaz is also out. But the return of Lucas Vazquez and Isco gives Zidane more depth, and Isco is usually important against teams which play a low-block against Madrid, and so there’s a chance the Spaniard plays a role later on.
For the hosts, they won’t be able to call upon the services of Dani Martin, Victor Camarasa and Francis Guerrero who are all still out with injury, and Andres Guardado is a doubt. The key player who may miss the contest is Nabil Fekir who was replaced in the game against Valladolid, but the signs are that he may pass a late fitness test, and will take up his position as Betis’ danger man in chief against Madrid.
Real Betis are unbeaten in their last three contests against the capital club, and beat them 2-1 in their last meeting which was the final game before the Covid-19 lockdown. Madrid had just beaten Barcelona in El Clasico and had gone a point clear at the top of the table, only to come unstuck against Betis and a combination of unforced errors, poor finishing, lethargic intensity and an Emerson thunderbolt. It’s usually a ground where Madrid struggle, and as it’s so early on, Pellegrini will be keen to see a third win in a row this season, against a Madrid side which aren’t totally there yet, neither tactically nor physically.