Real Madrid will be looking to clinch the La Liga title by getting at least a point off their trip to Malaga.
After 37 enthralling weekends of top class Spanish football, La Liga has reached its final corner, and the curtain will come down on the top flight on Sunday. As many foresaw at the start of the campaign, Real Madrid and Barcelona competed for the title from the very first week.
However, with one match left to go for both teams, Real Madrid are firmly in the driver’s seat as they hold a three-point lead over their El Clasico rivals Barcelona. However, the race could have been over should Real have put in a better performance when they faced the Catalan outfit this season.
Unlike most leagues around Europe, La Liga follows the head-to-head record between two teams if they are tied on the same number of points come the end of the season, and goal difference is not considered.
Barcelona played out a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, but triumphed over the capital outfit in the Santiago Bernabeu a few weeks ago, leaving them as the better team on head-to-head.
So, for them to win the title, they will be hoping for Real to falter against Malaga, and they will lift the crown should they pick up three points against Eibar at home.
The ball is in Real Madrid’s court as Malaga have not had the best of La Liga campaigns, and even a draw in the contest could see them lift the elusive Spanish first division trophy for the first time since the 2011/12 season.
Team News and Tactics
Malaga boss Michel is expected to make a couple of changes to the side that drew 2-2 against Real Sociedad last weekend. The likes of Ignacio Camacho and Keko are expected to return after missing out last time around.
Against Sociedad, Pablo Fornals played in a slightly deeper position alongside Recio. While the latter stuck to his position, hoping to break up the opposition play, the former had a more complex role of contributing in both thirds of the field.
This eventually saw him tire, and left Malaga threadbare in midfield. However, with Camacho returning to the fray, Fornals is expected to play in behind striker Sandro Ramirez, who drew a blank against Sociedad.
It may be a tiring night for the Malaga back four as Cristiano Ronaldo and co. are going to come all guns blazing, looking to seal their first title in five years. Miguel Torres playing at right-back is likely to be drawn out of position, given Ronaldo’s tendency to operate centrally.
This could see Marcelo exploit the free space on the left flank, as he is expected to storm forward on ever occasion looking to unsettle the Malaga defence. Thus, Keko will be entrusted to track back with the Brazilian, and Camacho could also assist the Spaniard in double-teaming Marcelo.
Malaga Probable XI: Kameni; Torres Hernandez, Llorente, Ricca; Camacho, Recio; Keko, Fornals, Jony; Ramirez.
Zinedine Zidane is unlikely to change the side that beat Celta Vigo on Wednesday. Despite the availability of Pepe, the Frenchman is likely to stick with his compatriot Raphael Varane who is forming a seamless bond with Sergio Ramos at the heart of the Real defence.
The capital club look more assured at the back with the presence of Varane and Ramos, and with Pepe likely to walk out of the door in the summer, the two could be a regular pairing next season.
Dani Carvajal’s absence will see Danilo continue his extended run-in in the first team for Los Blancos. The Brazilian may not be a menace in the final third as the Spaniard, but he is a calm presence on the ball, and is good at winning back the ball.
In midfield, Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have been Zidane’s first-choice options all season, and he is unlikely to change the winning formula for the final game of the season. Casemiro is the defensive minded of trio while Modric pulls the strings from deep and Kroos puts in a shift in the opposition penalty area.
The midfield triplet seem to work in tandem every time they’re on the field together, and have been key to Real’s success this season. They are expected to keep the likes of Camacho, Recio and Fornals on their toes all afternoon.
Gareth Bale’s tumultuous season has been plagued with injuries, and the Welshman will sit this game out. In his stead, Isco has done a fairly decent job, and is expected to retain his position in the front line along with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Real Madrid Probable XI: Navas; Danilo, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo.
- Real have scored at least four goals in their last three away league matches, and have also averaged over two goals in each of their last eleven matches away from the Santiago Bernabeu.
- In fact, the league leaders boast a tremendous away record against Malaga as they have lost just one of their last 34 matches at La Rosaleda Stadium with their only defeat coming on the 22nd December 2012.
- Former Malaga star Isco grabbed one of the goals on that day, but will now be looking to score on his former breeding ground for his new club.
- Malaga have been on a decent run of form, as they are unbeaten in their last five league matches.
- The hosts have already beaten Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia and Celta Vigo at La Rosaleda this term, with only Sevilla managing to find the back of the net.
Player to watch out for
The Brazilian midfield destroyer has been seen as many as the heir to Claude Makelele’s throne at Real Madrid. Despite possessing an array of talent post the Frenchman’s departure, seldom has anyone staked a claim to replace him.
However, in Casemiro, Los Blancos may finally have a realistic replacement for Makele. As Rob Train of ESPN rightly pointed out, the Brazilian is one of the best tacklers around Europe at the moment and has an incredibly sharp footballing brain to intercept opposing passes.
Thus, on the final day of the season, Casemiro will be expected to put in another solid performance, and win his first league title for the club he holds close to his heart.
Malaga 1-2 Real Madrid
Goals have never been a problem for Real all season, and despite the absence of Bale, there have been others who have stepped up to find the numbers. Malaga have been in decent form of late, but given the world-class players in the opposition lineup, they are expected to concede.
Their defence is no match for Real Madrid’s solid attack, and the Los Blancos front men could have a field day should the Malaga defenders not be at their best on Sunday.