Real Madrid are back in action later today at 14:00 CET at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, welcoming newly promoted Huesca, with the aim to end the weekend at the summit of La Liga.
The defending champions have been a bag full of surprises this term, with a long list of injuries hurting the continuity of a system, and ultimately impacting consistency of results and notably performances on the pitch. In a normal world, you would expect Madrid to win this comfortably, but with the way the campaign has begun, and Real’s issues with teams that sit in a low-block, is any match in this league a cake-walk? Probably not. Fellow newcomers Cadiz demonstrated how to make Madrid suffer, even if they’re on their own turf, and they drew up the manual in how to beat the champions.
There was a recovery though, a crucial one, after back to back defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk, but that horrible week was rounded off with the best showing of the season from Los Blancos, a 3-1 win away at Camp Nou, fortunately for Zinedine Zidane, who already finds himself under the Spanish media microscope. It’s nothing new for the Frenchman though, by this time last year, they had been beaten by Paris Saint Germain and drew to Club Brugge in their opening two UEFA Champions League group stage games, and had already dropped four points in the league heading into matchday seven.
The visitors on the other hand come into this as one of two teams yet to win a game in the league. Huesca have battled, and battled hard in their first season back among the big boys, and have managed to grind out five draws, losing twice. Both defeats have come in their previous five games, once to Real Sociedad and once to Cadiz, both teams capitalising on gaps in behind the Huesca defence. It’s a team that can shut the door firm though, as Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Valencia have found out – the minnows have recorded a surprise, and impressive, point against all three sides this season.
The key talking point
In terms of Real’s season so far, of course improvement is required, and it’ll come in the shape of key figures returning to match fitness and form, more specifically Eden Hazard, Martin Ødegaard, Dani Carvajal, and the presently fit players struggling for form such as Karim Benzema, Luka Jovic, Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio. Once Zidane has all his players available, only then will we see the plans that he wishes to implement. In terms of chance creation, Madrid are statistically the team which has created the most chances in La Liga this season, the issue has been their failure to put them away.
And today, the most likely scenario is that Huesca sit back as they did against Atletico. I think there’s a chance Zidane roles the dice and rotates in this one, considering the level of opposition, with all due respect to Huesca, this clash won’t, or at least shouldn’t require the highest gears of Real, and Zidane will have one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League must-win contest against Inter Milan.
The return of Hazard couldn’t have come at a better moment for Zidane. The next five games see Real play Huesca, Inter twice, Valencia and Villarreal, three of them away from home, but all of them, potentially season defining. The Belgian adds a completely different dimension to the team, they create far more chances and they score more goals, and quite simply, improve aesthetically too.
While rotations will probably happen, it’s important for Madrid to start with intensity, unlike their defeat to Cadiz. The aim should be to put the match beyond reach in the opening half hour, which would either result in the visitors coming out of their shell to score, hence allowing Madrid space to hurt them further, or they’ll go further in their shell, and Madrid can then comfortable play the game at their own pace, knowing the result has been secured early on. Balls over the top have hurt Huesca this campaign, particularly against Sociedad, and therefore, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to have Marcelo and Isco on the pitch behind Jovic, three players Zidane will most certainly need firing this month.
The visitors don’t come into it at full strength, as Pedro Lopez still on the sidelines and Mikel Rico remains a huge doubt having tested positive for Covid-19. Shinji Okazaki has a knock so he may not feature either.
For Real, Thibaut Courtois has a muscle injury so he could be rested, meaning Andriy Lunin could make his long-awaited club debut, Hazard returns, but Zidane is still without a first choice right-back, with Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola still out. Ødegaard is close to a return, but won’t feature today.
The last time these two sides met
Madrid got the better of Huesca both times they faced off in La Liga, which was during the 2018-19 campaign. During matchday 15, the capital club won 1-0 away from home, and then during matchday 29, they had to recover from 1-0 down at the Santiago Bernabeu, before an 89th minute Benzema winner was required for Los Merengues to clinch a 3-2 victory. And this one, might be as unpredictable.