Real Madrid will be hoping to return to winning ways as they host Celta Vigo later this evening at 21:00 CET at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, no doubt looking to bounce back from a disappointing 1-1 draw against Elche on Wednesday.
That result meant Zinedine Zidane’s side ending a six match winning streak, but crucially, gave city rivals and league leaders Atletico Madrid a further advantage in the title race, as they now lead by two points, while still holding two games in-hand. And it certainly doesn’t get any easier for Zidane’s men.
The defending champions come up against a side with the in-form forward Iago Aspas, a team which is unbeaten in their last six outings, five of them being wins. Eduardo Coudet’s side have consequently climbed up to 8th in the standings since he took over as head coach, two points behind Barcelona, albeit having played a game more than the Catalans. But a positive result against Los Blancos today would be the ideal booster start to 2021 for Celta in their quest for climbing further up the league table.
Errors continue to haunt Madrid though, and the big news is that they’ll be without leader and captain Sergio Ramos, who could be a huge miss against Aspas – who has the most goals (nine) and assists (six) this season. As our columnist Muddassir Hussain mentioned in his piece yesterday, the self-inflicted errors against the likes of Cadiz, Deportivo Alaves, Valencia and Elche have been detrimental to Madrid’s title charge, and have already cost the reigning champions over 10 points in the defence of their title.
The key talking point
How do Madrid stop the transitional efficiency of Aspas, Nolito, Santi Mina and co? The players are so good at combining, whether that’s down the middle of the park, or with one of them making angled or overlapping runs, they’ll cause Madrid a lot of headaches if Zidane doesn’t prepare for this adequately.
If there’s ever a match where you cannot take risks, it’s this one. Zidane therefore might opt to revert back to his go-to team of last season, which was sturdy at the back, but just wasn’t as dangerous going forward, while relying on Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema to do the job up front. Perhaps, this could mean a return to a 4-4-2 whilst defending, with Casemiro having the extra protection of Federico Valverde, and the return of Ferland Mendy in the line-up to solidify the left side in the absence of Ramos. It’s likely Nacho Fernandez will substitute, and he’s obviously an able deputy, but Zidane needs to ensure his starting XI is enough to stop Celta’s intricate play, particularly in the final third.
In their 2-1 win over Huesca on Wednesday, Celta’s impact came straight down the middle. Aspas and Nolito scored and assisted one each, but it’s the selflessness and the ability to pick eachother out which sets up a terrific contest against Real’s back-four. There’s always one attacker making a delayed run into the box, for a cut-back, with another pulling defenders away. Aspas will need to be tracked by two men if Madrid are going to clinch the three points, because he’s in the type of form to cause damage.
For Madrid, a 4-4-2 defensive shape which converts and expands into a 4-1-2-3 could work, with Mendy and Dani Carvajal overloading the wings to flood cut-backs in and around the Celta box following overlaps, is one way to win. But you can hurt Celta, their defence isn’t as sturdy as it may seem, and Huesca certainly showed that, when they began recycling possession and switching play faster. That enabled them to move Celta’s back four, creating gaps which Huesca did open-up plenty of times.
Rodrygo Goes is still out with a hamstring tear that ruled him out for three months, and Ramos is the only other casualty for the hosts, he has been suffering with a mild-illness and didn’t train.
As for the visitors; Sergio Alvarez, David Junca and Kevin Vazquez are unavailable, but Coudet has lots to choose from in their absence. Fran Beltran, Miguel Baeza and Okay Yokuslu have made cases, but it’s likely he’ll stick with the winning formula of dangerous quartet Nolito, Aspas, Mina and Denis Suarez.
The last time they met
In this fixture last season, Mina dealt Madrid a punishing blow with four minutes to play as Celta escaped the Santiago Bernabeu with a 2-2 draw. Fyodor Smolov had given the visiting side the lead after seven minutes, but goals from Kroos and Ramos put Madrid ahead, that was until Mina equalised late on.
Their fixture in Vigo was actually matchday one of the 2019-20 campaign, as Real won 3-1. Benzema, Kroos and Lucas Vazquez scored the three goals, and even though Luka Modric was shown a straight red card before the hour mark, Celta could only manage one consolation goal through Iker Losada in stoppage time – but that was too little too late.