Real Madrid will be looking to secure a third straight home victory in La Liga competition, as they return to the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano later today at 19:45 CET, to take on an in-form Granada side.
Both teams come into this clash with the feel good factor, with the hosts hoping to stay at the summit, while the visitors sit in seventh place, level on points with Real’s perennial rivals Barcelona. With 21 points from their opening 13 games, Granada have seen a recent surge in confidence following impressive 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Elche and Real Betis respectively. That was before four disappointing results, which saw them beaten 3-1 by Celta Vigo, losing 1-0 to PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Europa League, then a 3-3 home draw against Huesca in La Liga, before a goalless stalemate against PAOK.
In contrast, Real have been flying this past month, and a resurgence in form, which includes five wins on the bounce in all competitions, four of them league wins, after back to back defeats to Deportivo Alaves and Shakhtar Donetsk. But that defeat on 1st December appeared to have sparked new life into the defending league champions, and they’re now playing like a team with a plan, and importantly, belief.
The key talking point
Zinedine Zidane had key squad players returning from injury for the 3-1 weekend victory over Eibar, but instead, didn’t choose to role the rotational dice. It would therefore be surprising to see the Frenchman opt to rotate in this game, against an opponent that has the potential to be a stern obstacle for Real.
In the Andalusian derby, Granada only conceded one shot on target in the entire game against Betis, a hallmark of what they represent. It’s a well organised and drilled side by Diego Martinez, who at the weekend took charge of his 100th game at the club. Roberto Soldado scored a brace in the game, and the way he and Luis Suarez – both top scorer’s for Granada this season with four goals – regularly combine to cause issues for defenders is a joy to see. They tend to switch between playing close to eachother and wider apart, and that’s something which allows the likes of Darwin Machís, Yangel Herrera and Luis Milla to bomb forward in overlapping runs to deliver clever passes in behind or crosses to the far post.
For Madrid to win this, they’ll need total control of the midfield. Look at the way in which Atletico Madrid battered Granada 6-1 back in September. Fair enough, they’ve recovered and are a far more organised and well balanced unit now, but Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2 that day worked wonders for the current league leaders, allowing Joao Felix and Marcos Llorente to make late runs into the box, while the two presences of Diego Costa and Luis Suarez later on in that game occupied the defenders. All this while Koke and Saul anchored the midfield and it ended up being a brutally attacking display from Atletico.
It’ll be interesting to see how Zidane creates the balance in the absence of Luka Modric. Does he stick with Fede Valverde, who’s slowly growing since returning from a nasty knee injury? Or does he roll the dice and go with Isco, who offers more control, but perhaps not enough end product and pace in transition. Madrid’s counter-attacking since the Shakhtar defeat has been incredible, and so it wouldn’t be nice to see Zidane ruin the tempo and momentum that the team has built in recent games. And that’s the main reason why it’s tough to see Zidane making many changes to a winning formula.
Zidane having every player available lasted a day, or two. Vinicius Junior, who was the only absentee through injury against Eibar is back from gastro, but Modric suffered a muscular overload and has been rested for this one. Eden Hazard is back, and could be ready to start, although Zidane may ease him in. Also returning is Isco, who shook off a knee injury which kept out at the weekend.
For Zidane’s opposite number, Martinez is going to have to do without key central midfielder Maxime Gonalons, who is suspended with an accumulation of yellow cards. Victor Diaz, Angel Montoro, Neyder Lozano and Fede Vico are all out with injuries. And even Machis is a doubt, after he had to be replaced with an hour on the clock against Betis on Sunday. Plenty of concerns and voids to be filled for Granada.
The last time they met
Their previous meeting was actually at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes, which ended in a 2-1 win for Madrid, putting them three points away from their 34th league crown. In the capital, at the Santiago Bernabeu, Granada were 3-0 down before making a recovery, scoring twice with 12 minutes still on the clock. Until James Rodriguez came off the bench to seal a 4-2 win for Real on home soil.
This isn’t a game which Madrid and Zidane should take lightly, they’ll be punished if they do!