The last time these 2 sides met, there was an air of immense hostility surrounding the fixture and more than the match itself, it was the pre-match conference that had truly grabbed headlines. Jose Mourinho had just fired a salvo towards Manolo Preciado, accusing him of gifting Barcelona the match by fielding a weaker side. Preciado, not to be outdone had launched a tirade of his own and called Mourinho a “lowlife”.

This ensured that the match was an extremely bad tempered one, with plenty of fouls and cards from both the sides. Mourinho had been suspended for that match and it was Karanka who handled the reins in that match. However, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Sporting has taken 2 points off Barcelona and Preciado is singing Mourinho’s praises. “I think he (Mourinho) is a great coach and I’m sure he is a good guy. I have no problem with anyone. It is just a football game.”

However this should not be taken a sign of weakness from the feisty coach who knows that every point counts as far as the survival is concerned.

Real Madrid have an unblemished home record. Sporting on the other hand, are the 3rd worst side away from home, although they have picked up 8 points in their last 5 fixtures.

Last 5 games:

Real Madrid: W-W-W-W-D

Sporting Gijon: W-D-W-L-D

Team News and Tactical Brief

Home Team

Weakness: With the superstars that Real Madrid has, it difficult to pinpoint a weakness. However, for this match, they will be missing their creator-in-chief Xabi Alonso and thus Real will definitely struggle to break down the resolute Sporting defence.

Suspended and injured players: Pepe and Alonso are out due to an accumulation of cards. Ronaldo, Benzema, Marcelo, Kaka and Gago are all out with injuries.A big and an unexpected boost is the availability of “El Pipa”, who trained with the first team.

Tactics: Real Madrid have 4 of their most attacking players unavailable. This means a loss of creativity both in the middle of the park as well as on the flanks. To counter this there can be three possible tactics.

1)      Mourinho might be tempted to go with both Lass and Khedira as flanks for Granero. However, against a team like Sporting, this may not work as they will be more than happy with a solitary point. Although, since Mourinho tends be cautious, he can opt for this line-up and give Khedira and Granero a license to attack and in this formation Ramos’ role will be extremely crucial. He will be expected to play the same role he is used to playing for Spain: i.e. making rampaging runs down the right side. Also his support will be crucial for Di Maria. Adebayor will need to be at the end of crosses and prove his worth in a side, surprisingly short of big names.

2)      Sergio Canales and Pedro Leon have barely featured for Real this season and by any standards they did not have the best of times in Real. However, with this spate of injuries, Mourinho might opt for a like-for-like replacement and go in with Pedro Leon in place of Ronaldo with a focus on wing play and crossing.

3)      Another option for Mourinho lies in going in for a Canales and Granero combo and playing Lass on the right and focus more on the central aspect of play to support Ozil.

Probable Starting XI (Formation: 4-2-2-2):

Casillas, Ramos, Carvalho, Albiol, Arbeloa, Granero, Lass, Khedira, Ozil, Di Maria, Adebayor.

Away Team

Weakness: Sporting are a modest side who tend to struggle away from home and lie 17th in the away table. They do not have a very potent attack and generally tend to struggle to score whether at home or away.

Suspended and injured players: Diego Castro, Cuellar and Carmelo are out with injuries. Bilic, Sastre and Poves are a doubt. Sporting do not have any players suspended.

Tactics: With so many injuries and a facing a team like Real Madrid can mean only one tactic for Sporting. Dig in their heels, play with 10 men behind the ball, try to score from set pieces and hit Real on the counter.

Probable Starting XI (Formation: 4-4-2)
Juan Pablo Colinas, Iván Soto, Alberto Botía, Roberto Canella, Alberto Ramos, Nacho Cases, Alberto Rivera, David Barral, André Castro, Garcia Perez Ayoze, Miguel de las Cuevas.

Adebayor (Real Madrid)

Much To Prove

Whatever formation Real may play in, one man is sure to be in the central scheme of everything: Adebayor. Even since Benzema started to display his true quality, Adebayor was relegated to the bench. However, with several important players missing, Real are sure to put plenty of crosses in the box and hope Adebayor scores off one of them to open up the game. Trust this physical marvel to be a handful for Sporting defence.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION
Real Madrid 2-0 Sporting

Sporting have a goal scoring average of 0.93 per match and their chief striker Diego Castro missing it difficult to see Sporting scoring a goal. Although, Real have many players missing through injury or suspensions, they should have enough in the tank to see off Sporting. A close encounter with not too many goals seems to be on the cards. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory is likely  for the hosts.