Real Madrid will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to La Rosaleda to take on Malaga on Sunday.
The La Liga title race might essentially be done and dusted, but the race to finish runners-up behind Barcelona is starting to heat up. Real Madrid, who are four points adrift of second-placed Atletico Madrid, will visit La Rosaleda on Sunday, when Malaga can get a step closer to relegation from La Liga.
Malaga’s season has been characterised by endless travails from the word go, as a result of which they have been rooted to the bottom of the league table for several weeks now. In fact, Jose Manuel Gonzalez Lopez’s men have won just one of their last 16 games, and just four all season.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, have been uncharacteristically poor in La Liga, dropping points at an alarming regularity. Los Blancos were held to a draw in the Madrid derby last weekend as well, which was followed by a 3-1 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, although they qualified for the semis.
The reverse fixture, played at Santiago Bernabeu in November, ended in a 3-2 win for Real Madrid, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a late winner to earn his side the three points. Ahead of their latest meeting on Sunday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Juan Manuel Gonzalez Lopez has some good news ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. While the Malaga boss will still be without eight first-team players, he will be able to welcome a couple of players back into contention for Sunday’s game.
The likes of Diego Rolan (calf), Juankar (ACL), Recio (knee), Federico Ricca (calf), Zdravko Kuzmanovic (muscle injury), Maxime Lestienne (hamstring) and Chory Castro (thigh) are all on the treatment table, while Luis Hernandez is suspended for one game.
The good news though, is that Juanpi and Alberto Penaranda are fit and available after recovering from their respective hamstring injuries. However, the duo are likely to start on the bench after missing several weeks of action due to their problems.
With Luis Hernandez absent, Diego Gonzalez is likely to deputise at the heart of the Malaga defence. With both their natural left-backs sidelined, Miguel Torres should continue as a makeshift left-back, with Roberto Rosales starting on the opposite flank.
In midfield, Manuel Iturra and Mehdi Lacen will be the key men, tasked with keeping the Real Madrid creative men under check, while Isaac Success and Samu Garcia are likely to be the wide men testing the visiting full-backs. Upfront, Rolan’s void should be filled by Borja Baston, with Youssef En-Nesyri his strike partner.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Roberto; Rosales, Gonzalez, Miquel, Torres; Garcia, Lacen, Iturra, Success; Baston, En-Nesyri
Zinedine Zidane does not have many pressing injury concerns to deal with ahead of the trip to La Rosaleda. On Sunday, the Real Madrid boss will be without just two first-team players due to fitness problems.
Nacho continues to recover from a thigh injury he sustained last month, and is only likely to be available towards the end of the campaign. Isco is the other absentee for Zidane, with the Spaniard picking up a knock in the Champions League game against Juventus.
Meanwhile, Sergio Ramos is set to return to the starting lineup after sitting out the midweek game in Europe. The Real Madrid skipper should line up alongside Raphael Varane at the heart of the defence, with Dani Carvajal and Theo Hernandez being the full-backs, the latter to provide Marcelo some much needed rest.
In midfield, Luka Modric and Casemiro might be rested as well, with Mateo Kovacic and Marco Asensio deputising in their absence. The latter is likely to facilitate a change in system, with Zidane possibly employing a 4-4-2, which should also see Lucas Vazquez returning to the side.
Upfront, Cristiano Ronaldo might be completely omitted from the matchday squad, as has been the case in recent weeks against lowly opposition. In his absence, Karim Benzema should return to the starting lineup, with Gareth Bale as his strike partner.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Theo Hernandez; Vazquez, Kovacic, Kroos; Bale, Benzema
- Malaga have only been on the right side of the result in one of their 33 league meetings against Real Madrid – a 3-2 win at La Rosaleda in December, 2012 (D8 L24).
- Los Boquerones have only won one of their last 16 league games (D3 L12), with that victory coming in their last home game (1-0 vs Villarreal).
- Real Madrid have only lost two of their last 24 games on the road in La Liga (W18 D4).
- Real Madrid have scored in each of their last 19 league games in Andalusia (52 goals, an average of 2.7), their best ever run in the south of Spain.
- Zinedine Zidane has never lost in his four meetings against Malaga as a coach (W3 D1). Real Madrid coincidentally clinched La Liga last season by winning this fixture on the last day of the campaign.
Player To Watch
Missing for the second leg against Juventus in the Champions League, Sergio Ramos’s absence was dearly felt by Real Madrid, who lacked organisation at the back for large parts of the game.
While the game against Malaga isn’t exactly one of the most important in their campaign, the captain’s return will still be key in getting their defensive shape back and lay down a marker ahead of the semis. Expect Real Madrid to pose a solid look at the back, with Malaga getting rare sniffs at goal, if at all.
Malaga 0-2 Real Madrid
Their bid for the title may be over, but there is still some pride left to be salvaged for Real Madrid, who would hate to finish behind their local rivals Atletico Madrid. Just four points separate the Madrid rivals, and Los Blancos can ill afford another slip up.
A win against Malaga will also help Real Madrid leapfrog Valencia back into third, after Los Che’s loss to Barcelona on Saturday. Malaga, on the other hand, do not pose the kind of quality to trouble the visitors much on the night, and we should see Zinedine Zidane & co. coast to a 2-0 win.