Real Madrid return to the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano to host Levante this afternoon at 16:15 CET, with anything but the three points likely to lead to further crisis talk in the Spanish capital.
While uncertainty still remains over the long-term future of Zinedine Zidane and Sergio Ramos, Madrid remain seven points behind city rivals Atletico Madrid, with the league leaders boasting a seven point lead at the summit, including two games in hand over Real.
But the defending champions come into this one on the back of a solid 4-1 win over Deportivo Alaves, and look to be somewhat back on track after a disastrous week which saw them eliminated from the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. All the focus is now on the league title race and the UEFA Champions League, but injuries continue to hurt Zidane, who actually won’t be on the sidelines once more, with assistant David Bettoni leading the troops this afternoon in Zidane’s isolation absence.
In contrast, the visitors haven’t won in the league since January 10th, and have since drawn 2-2 against Cadiz and Real Valladolid, but their most recent match was a 4-2 win over Valladolid to reach the quarter-finals of the Copa.
The key talking point
There’s no doubt that Madrid look a far better team when Eden Hazard is on the pitch, in fact, statistically this can be proven to be a fact. Madrid are more likely to create more goalscoring opportunities with the Belgian on the pitch, but his role at Madrid is different to his role at Chelsea. Hazard tends to play closer to Karim Benzema, as the man in the hole, but he roams a lot. This allows Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to combine with the Belgian and allows for more late runs and runs in behind to be made by Madrid’s utility wing-backs and wingers.
One option Zidane and Bettoni could have, which they haven’t used a lot is to play Hazard alongside Vinicius Junior. The young Brazilian and Ferland Mendy would therefore be used on the left, and Hazard would roam freely, being the link between Benzema and the midfield. Without Vini, Ferland is usually the left-winger and while he’s impeccable defensively, there’s still a lot to be improved with his attacking side, and it would suit Madrid a lot to have an extra winger, when Hazard roams inwards, to have that extra runner on the left.
Otherwise, Madrid will look to use the ball over the top as Levante tend to use a high defensive line, and just as we saw against Alaves, the balls over the top, instead of looking to play through the opponent, could actually be something Zidane looks to pursue more often in Madrid’s dry scoring spells. There’s also a case to be made for the likes of Antonio Blanco to be used more frequently, now that he has been confirmed as another first team midfielder since Martin Ødegaard left on loan to Arsenal. Blanco is a fantastic defensive midfielder and could be argued to be better on the ball than Casemiro, so there is scope for Zidane to use four midfielders once more, with Blanco and Casemiro sitting, as Kroos and Modric join Hazard and Benzema in the final third. But what’s clearly missing is pace and runs in-behind, which Vinicius is the only one capable of plugging right now, considering both Marco Asensio and Hazard prefer to travel centrally rather than make outside runs.
Madrid have called three Castilla players to the squad, as Victor Chust, Sergio Arribas and Blanco make the cut. Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes are joined by Lucas Vazquez on the injury list, and Nacho Fernandez is out having tested positive for Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Levante head coach Paco Lopez will be without former Madrid graduate Jorge de Frutos, Nikola Vukcevic and Jose Campana, all injured for this weekend’s clash. But Oscar Duarte should be back in defence, and that’s a major positive for the Valencian outfit.
The last time they met?
Levante did give Los Blancos plenty to think about on matchday five, but Real still ran out 2-0 victors. A super goal from Vinicius after 16 minutes opened the scoring before both sides threatened at both ends, until Benzema sealed it with a nice solo finish in the second half to avoid another damaging result.