After having their lead at the top of the La Liga shortened by Valencia, Real Madrid will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to El Madrigal to face Villarreal CF

When these sides met in September, both sides has to share the points after playing out a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu. Real Madrid fell behind late in the first half thanks to a Bruno Soriano penalty, won courtesy of a Sergio Ramos handball.

The Spaniard would go on to make amends mere minutes after the restart, after getting on the end of a James Rodriguez corner with one of his trademark headers to bring his side back on level terms. Neither side would be able to get the lead after that and the scores remained even.

Real Madrid's defender Sergio Ramos (R) heads the ball to score a goal during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs Villarreal CF at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on September 21, 2016. / AFP / GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Zero To Hero. Real Madrid’s defender Sergio Ramos (R) heads the ball to score a goal during the Spanish league football match vs Villarreal CF at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on September 21, 2016. (Picture Courtesy – Getty Images)

In doing so, Villarreal became the first team to stop Los Blancos from taking all 3 points and that draw the start a 4 match winless streak for the European Champions. They would go an entire month without victory, before eventually getting back to winning ways by thrashing Real Sociedad 1-6.

Fran Escriba’s side are going through a very erratic run of form in the League. They have registered only 2 victories in the Spanish top flight in 2017, drawing 4 and losing 1. They sit at a comfortable 6th place in the La Liga table and have a fairly decent chance of finishing in the top 4.

Real currently sit atop the La Liga, 1 point clear of second placed Barcelona, albeit with a game in hand. Narrow losses away to Sevilla and Valencia have prevented them from amassing an even greater lead at the summit and another loss would be huge blow to their title chances.

Probable lineups and tactics

Villarreal CF

Fran Escriba will likely deploy his men in the traditional and conservative 4-4-2 formation against Real Madrid, with the emphasis expected to be on defending. He has dabbled with a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 sometimes this season, but no change is expected for this tie.

Sergio Asenjo will most likely retain his place in goal for this tie. Jaume Costa is expected to return to the starting XI at left back. Alvaro Gonzalez and Mateo Musacchio will probably make up the center-back pairing and Mario Gaspar should return to right-back in place of Antonio Rukavina.

Manu Trigueros will also most likely get back into the side and alongside Bruno Soriano, form the central/defensive midfield pairing for El Submarino Amarillo. Samu Castillejo and Dos Santos too, will mostly start on the either flank for the hosts.

Roberto Soldado, who started Villarreal’s Europa League tie against AS Roma is in line to make his first league start this season after returning an ACL injury that kept him on the sidelines. He will likely start alongside club top scorer Nicola Sansone as a part of the hosts’ double strikeforce.

Predicted Starting XI (4-4-2): Asenjo; Costa, Gonzalez, Musacchio, Gaspar; Dos Santos, Trigueros, Soriano, Castillejo; Sansone, Soldado

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Real Madrid

Raphael Varane is the only first team regular likely to miss out on this match as the Frenchman was taken off after picking up an injury in the 73rd minute. Along with Varane, only full-backs Fabio Coentrao and Danilo will sit out on the sidelines.

Varane was replaced by Nacho Fernandez, but Pepe could also start in place of the 23-year-old alongside Sergio Ramos in the center of defence. Keylor Navas will likely retain his place in goal ahead of Casilla, despite a thoroughly underwhelming performance against Los Che.

James started as a part of Zidane’s front three, on the right. However, it is unlikely that the Colombian will retain his place in the starting XI ahead of Gareth Bale, who is line for his first League start since his comeback from his ankle injury.

It is unlikely that Zidane will try and rotate his midfield, given that Madrid will have had enough time to recover between the Valencia game and this one. In that case, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos will make up the visitors midfield trio.

Alvaro Morata, Casilla, Isco, Mateo Kovacic, James Rodriguez, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio will make up their bench and some of them may feature over the course of the game. Unlike their hosts, Zidane has stuck to his trusted 4-3-3 formation throughout the season and no deviation is expected for this tie.

Predicted Starting XI (4-3-3): Navas; Marcelo, Varane, Ramos, Carvajal; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale

VCFvsRM

Key Statistics

  • Both Real Madrid center-back Sergio Ramos and Villarreal’s leading goal scorer Nicola Sansone have the same number of goals this season – 8.
  • Out of their 12 previous visits to Villarreal, Real Madrid have won only 4 times.
  • Real Madrid have now lost more League matches in 2017(2), than in 2016(1).
  • If Real Madrid score in this tie, they would equal Barcelona’s record of having scored in 44 consecutive games in all competitions.
  • Villarreal’s Sergio Asenjo has kept the most sheets in the La Liga this season, with 11.
  • Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 11 goals against Villarreal, more than any other La Liga player.
  • Roberto Soldado has scored 4 goals in his last 4 games against Real Madrid at the Madrigal.

Players To Watch

Real Madrid: Gareth Bale

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 18: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and RCD Espanyol at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Return to the starting XI on the cards? (Picture Courtesy – Getty Images)

The Madrigal will always be a special stadium for the Welshman. Bale made his Liga debut against Villarreal on 14th September 2013 and scored his first goal in the 38th minute. Gareth Bale is in line for his first start since returning from his long injury lay-off which kept him out for 88 days.

He wasn’t able to help his side overturn a two-goal deficit after coming on late in the second half in their 2-1 loss against Valencia, but Zidane, and the fans will hope that the 27-year-old can hit the ground running on his return to the starting XI and the famous ‘BBC’ trio.

Prediction

Villarreal CF  1-2  Real Madrid

Zidane & co. will be well aware that after their loss to Valencia, they are in real danger of losing their lead at the top of the table. The title race was blown wide open at the Mestalla and the European Champions cannot afford to slip up even once in the title race, with 15 games to go.

They cannot afford to start slow as they have in previous games and cannot approach this tie with a complacent attitude. Real Madrid will be boosted by the return of Gareth Bale to the BBC and having a fully fit attack at full strength should give them a significant boost in confidence.

With a mostly fit squad, one far better in terms of quality than that of their hosts, the only thing Real don’t have is an excuse to not come away from this tie with all three points. A convincing victory is the need of the hour at Madrid, in order to calm nerves in the Los Blancos dressing room and to assure their fans that this title is still theirs to lose.

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