Real Madrid return to La Liga action this evening, taking on Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium. A win could see the defending champions move to the summit of the table, providing other results also go their way, and as it comes before the international break, it’s a must-win contest for the capital club.
Zinedine Zidane has been hit with fresh concerns with his squad, as the club announced Eden Hazard and Casemiro have both tested positive for Covid-19, and are now in a race to be among the team for the clash against Villarreal in two weeks.
But the show must go on, and Madrid come into this clash in better shape than their hosts. Their last gasp win against Inter Milan would have created a lot of positive feelings around the team, securing a massive victory to keep their hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 alive. Prior to that, they had their most comfortable outing in La Liga this campaign, with a 4-1 win over newly promoted Huesca. However, there are still trends which will bother Zidane, but none of them should impact this game, which is expected to be open, as it always is when Valencia host Real.
In contrast to their visitors, Los Che come into this at the worst possible time. Their preparation hasn’t been ideal at all, having drawn their most recent game against Getafe last week, but lost their three league games prior to that. From the four home games so far, they’ve only won once, drawing twice and losing on their own turf to Real Betis last month, in what was a catastrophic October. Javi Garcia will be hoping his players can turn up for this one, to trigger a change in fortunes, but the club overall are in a mess, from top to bottom, and their latest player to exit sums up everything that’s wrong. Geoffrey Kondogbia joined Atletico Madrid last week, for a reported fee of €12-15m, despite Valencia pointing to the €80m release clause, just a month ago, when Atleti came calling for Kondogbia the initial time. It’s just the latest in a long list of incompetent dealing, from a board which continues to damage Valencia.
The key talking point
Without Casemiro, the questions are obviously going to be centered around Zidane’s midfield. There’s a strong chance he opts for four in the middle, perhaps even five. The Frenchman confirmed Martin Ødegaard will be available, and therefore he springs to mind as a possibility as being the fourth midfielder, the one with the creativity, to help the front two, which are likely to be Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior or Rodrygo Goes. With the latter, or Luka Jovic, it would be nice to see either of them playing the furthest up the pitch for Madrid, while Benzema drops deeper to combine with the midfielders. For this contest particularly, Madrid don’t need to panic about a dominant Valencia midfield, because since the departures of Dani Parejo, Francis Coquelin and now Kondogbia, head coach Garcia is essentially trying to find a balance, which hasn’t really worked out.
Madrid could get away with playing Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in a pivot with Federico Valverde roaming around like usual, and Ødegaard on the pitch too. Making it a 4-5-1 when defending, with Vinicius dropping into the LWB position to help Ferland Mendy, and a 4-1-2-3 when attacking.
It’ll be interesting to see what Garcia does to counter Zidane’s midfield. In their last four games, Valencia have been set-up with a flat 4-4-2, so it’s likely Garcia will stick to his guns and roll the dice once more, hoping for better fortunes. There’s an issue with balance in that midfield, with Carlos Soler and Daniel Wass in the center, Madrid could easily win the midfield battle by overloading the midfield, allowing Ødegaard or Isco to connect the Real midfield and attack to together at the top of the diamond.
The hosts will be without defender Thierry Correia, who picked up a red card last time out. That could give Uros Racic featuring in the middle, as Daniel Wass plays in at right-back, a position he’s very familiar with. Also out is Mouctar Diakhaby, but watch out for 17-year old Yunus Musah. The teenager is attracting a lot of interest, and he’ll surely keep his spot in the starting XI.
If he does, Musah will likely come up against Lucas Vazquez. Real’s make-shift right-back has done a stellar job since stepping in during his team’s time of need in the absence of three right-backs. That’ll be an intriguing battle for sure. Hazard and Casemiro are out because of positive Covid tests, while Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Odriozola and Eder Militao are still out. Ødegaard does return for Zidane though.
The last time these two sides met
In their two league meetings last season, Real won the fixture in the capital 3-0, courtesy of a Benzema brace and a Marco Asensio comeback strike. But at the Mestalla, it was a totally different story. Madrid were begged back after Soler’s opener, and in a match which could easily have gone either way, it had the most epic ending. Thibaut Courtois was up for the corner which Kroos took, and the Belgian goalkeeper’s shot was saved before Benzema scored with seconds remaining to equalise.
Today’s clash isn’t expected to be as difficult for Madrid, who’s trip to face Valencia probably couldn’t come at a better time. It’s a must-win, so you can expect all three points for Zidane’s men.