Real Madrid can climb to the top of the table when they pay a visit to the Mendizorrotza to take on Deportivo Alaves on Saturday evening

The second international break of the season is nearly upon us. But, before that, Matchday 8 of La Liga has some enthralling matches to serve. One of the most intriguing games will see Deportivo Alaves play hosts to Real Madrid at the Mendizorrotza on Saturday, with both side looking to get back to winning ways.

Alaves have started the season strongly, with three wins from their first seven games putting them sixth on the La Liga table with 11 points. In fact, a win over Real Madrid on Saturday could see them leapfrog to the very top of the table – a sign a solid campaign to come at this stage of the season.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, have stuttered a little after a blistering start to their own campaign. Los Blancos are now without a win and a goal in their last three games, and a shock Champions League loss at the hands of CSKA Moscow will be just the kick up the backside needed to get back on track before their season spirals out of control.

The corresponding fixture last season ended in a 2-1 win for Real Madrid, with Dani Ceballos scoring both the goals to take his side over the line. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Deportivo Alaves

Abelardo Fernandez has been the perfect antidote for Alaves. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Abelardo Fernandez has been the perfect antidote for Alaves. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Abelardo Fernandez has a few pressing injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. On Saturday, the Alaves boss could be without as many as four first-team players, with Rodrigo Ely the definite absentee due to a long-term knee injury.

There are a few others whose availability is in doubt, with the likes of Patrick Twumasi, Ruben Duarte and Adrian Marin all struggling with minor injuries. Among these, Fernandez will be sweating over the fitness of Duarte in particular, with the 22-year-old being one of his key men this season.

Duarte and Marin are the two natural left-backs at the disposal of the Alaves boss, who thus, finds himself in a sticky situation. At the moment though, it looks like Duarte will take his place on the left side of the back four, with Martin Aguirregabiria lining up on the opposite flank.

Between the two full-backs, Victor Laguardia and Guillermo Maripan are the likely candidates to line up at the heart of the Alaves defence that will provide the cover to Fernando Pacheco. In midfield, the onus will be on captain, Manu Garcia to keep things tight, with the tireless Mubarak Wakaso giving him company.

The key men for Alaves, meanwhile, will be wide men Ibai Gomez and Jony. The duo will line up as traditional wingers and pose a threat with their crossing abilities and pace, especially with Real Madrid missing their two first-choice full-backs. Ruben Sobrino and John Guidetti should be the front men, who will need to be clinical to help Alaves spring a surprise on the visitors.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Pacheco; Aguirregabiria, Laguardia, Maripan, Duarte; Ibai Gomez, Manu Garcia, Wakaso, Jony; Sobrino, Guidetti

Alaves

Real Madrid

As iterated earlier, Julen Lopetegui has received a huge blow ahead of the trip to the Basque country to face Alaves. On Saturday, the Real Madrid boss will be without both his first-choice full-backs, with Dani Carvajal joining Marcelo (both calf) on the treatment table. Another key player, Isco is still unavailable as he continues recovering from appendicitis.

The absence of Carvajal and Marcelo though, is the big issue Lopetegui is grappling with. Carvajal’s injury means Alvaro Odriozola will have the opportunity to impress the manager when he makes his second start for Real Madrid.

On the opposite flank, Nacho is likely to be deployed as a makeshift left-back, with Sergio Reguilon not impressing all that much on his debut in the midweek Champions League tie. At the heart of the defence, Lopetegui is unlikely to make the mistake of resting Sergio Ramos unless absolutely necessary following Tuesday’s debacle.

The Real Madrid captain should have Raphael Varane for company in the central defensive partnership. Behind them, Thibaut Courtois should return to man the goal against Alaves, with clear roles being defined for him and Keylor Navas for different competitions.

Isco’s absence means Lopetegui does not have a bevy of options in midfield. One player though, is certain to return, with Luka Modric taking his place in the middle of the park, with Toni Kroos likely to be one of his partners despite his error against CSKA Moscow. The third slot could be taken up by Dani Ceballos, with Casemiro dropping to the bench.

Meanwhile, there is some good news for Real Madrid ahead of the trip to face Alaves, with Gareth Bale being fit and available. The Welshman should return to the side straightaway, with Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema completing the side. Benzema, in particular, is a man under pressure, which will grow if his goal drought continues.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Odriozola, Varane, Ramos, Nacho; Modric, Kroos, Ceballos; Bale, Benzema, Asensio

Real Madrid

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have won each of their last nine games against Deportivo Alaves. They last dropped points against El Glorioso in October 2001.
  • Real Madrid will be hoping to avoid going three La Liga outings without scoring a goal for the first time since May 2002.
  • Ibai Gomez has scored three goals against Real Madrid in La Liga, more than against any other team (alongside Girona, Valladolid and Villarreal), although each of the goals came in Athletic Bilbao colours.
  • Karim Benzema has been involved in five goals in his three league appearances against Alaves (two goals and three assists).
  • Abelardo Fernandez, the Alaves boss, is winless in his four league games against Real Madrid as a manager (D1 L3)

Player to Watch

Dani Ceballos

Happy memories at Mendizorrotza. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Happy memories at Mendizorrotza. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

2018-19 looks likely to be a career defining season for Dani Ceballos at Real Madrid, and it has become abundantly clear that Julen Lopetegui will give him a lot of games. Thus far though, the young Spaniard has blown hot and cold, and he needs to perform more consistently if he is to nail down a role as a regular.

With that in mind, the game against Alaves provides Ceballos the perfect opportunity to make a point and give Lopetegui some food for thought. The 22-year-old has scored his only brace in La Liga – and his only goals for Real Madrid – against the Basque outfit, and another solid performance could make the difference once again on Saturday.

Prediction

Deportivo Alaves 1-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid are far from their best, and fears that Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence could be telling are starting to rear their ugly head. With Alaves being unbeaten at home thus far, they have the golden opportunity to get a shock result against Los Blancos and heap the frustrations further.

The return of Gareth Bale though, could be just the antidote that Real Madrid need to get their campaign back on track. But, the game looks likely to be a closely contested affair, with Alaves posing a huge threat at the Mendizorrotza, with all three results possible. The Hard Tackle though, predicts a 2-1 win for Real Madrid to jump to the top of the La Liga standings.

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