Real Madrid host Real Valladolid at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano later today at 21:30 CEST, in what will be the defending champions’ first home game of the season. Four points out of a possible six, from two difficult away grounds, has spelled a very decent start to their title defence, considering key players are yet to return to full fitness and match rhythm.
Tonight’s game could see the return of Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio, in some shape or form, in their first matchday squad appearance of the 2020-21 season. Two players who would have undoubtedly been Zinedine Zidane’s go-to wingers last season, but instead spent the majority of the season on the sidelines through their respective injuries. But with the new season still in a premature stage, Zidane will be hoping these two are pivotal in Madrid’s title charge.
Los Blancos have had two different matches, and yet you could argue they could have won both. The first game away at Real Sociedad was handled like a pre-season friendly, and yet, Madrid created enough chances in the first half of that contest to win it comfortably. They ultimately lacked match sharpness through the entire 90 minutes and were unable to move through the gears when it mattered. But the intensity wasn’t as much of an issue against Real Betis at the weekend, another tough opponent where Madrid tend to struggle, they negotiated it well. Post-match, Zidane even commented on how his side created five or six very scorable chances, and yet could only convert three of them.
In contrast, today’s visitors haven’t had the best of starts. From their three games played, the club owned by the legendary Brazilian and former Madrid striker Ronaldo Nazario, have only managed to clinch two points, with two draws coming against Sociedad and Celta Vigo respectively. They don’t score that often too, one goal against each of their aforementioned opponents.
Their danger man comes in the shape of Sergi Guardiola. The former Cordoba forward has largely carried the weight of Valladolid’s attacking threat, assisting one and scoring from the spot against Celta. Madrid will need to keep a close eye on the 29-year old, who enjoys cutting in and whipping crosses into the box for fun, but also combines well with the midfield and full-backs to make runs in-behind.
Key talking point
We all want to see Madrid obliterate an opponent from start to finish. It’s been a while since Madrid really put an opposition to the sword, and tonight presents a very decent chance of doing just that. Against Betis, Zidane went with both Luka Jovic and Karim Benzema up-top, as he continued experimenting with different ideas. Today will likely see the return of Vinicius Junior in the starting XI today, and we’ll also see Isco or Luka Modric playing in the role of the absent Toni Kroos.
Madrid need to continue finding ways of creating more chances and more importantly, continue playing more vertically. The issue with Madrid last season was their lack of bravery in possession. You see teams like Bayern Munich and Liverpool regularly flooding the opposition half with waves of attack after attack, particularly using their wingers to make runs in-behind, with strikers peeling away into spaces to finish moves off. We aren’t seeing enough of that, but that’s partially down to the lack of consistency of key players, not only performance wise, but also in terms of appearances. Players like Isco, Hazard and Asensio would unlock tough low-blocks regularly, if Zidane could rely on them, but they just haven’t been available for sustained periods throughout the season. Tonight, it will be interesting to see who Zidane plays in the center of the park, because who he selects will directly relate to how well Madrid manage to pin Valladolid back for the majority of the game. Three players who will likely make an impact from the bench are Marcelo, Hazard and Asensio, with Modric and one of Isco or Martin Ødegaard trusted from the very beginning of the contest for creativity and chances creation. But then again, could Zidane also field Fede Valverde and risk playing without Casemiro again, like he did against Sociedad?
The hosts are still without Eder Militao and Mariano Diaz, while Kroos will miss 10-15 days of action, probably the next two games, because of the hip injury that he sustained against Betis.
Meanwhile, Sergio Gonzalez will still be without key men Javi Moyano and Joaquin Fernandez, while Ruben Alcaraz and Kiko Olivas both missed their last game against Celta, so could be in contention for a return to the matchday squad. Real will come up against two players who they sold to Valladolid this summer in Javi Sanchez and Miguel Baeza.
The last two meetings between the two sides weren’t simple for Madrid at all. They drew their home game against Valladolid 1-1 on matchday two last season, and narrowly won 0-1 away from home at the José Zorrilla Stadium. But chances will be plenty, and it’s high time Madrid start taking these chances.