Real Madrid will be desperately looking to return to winning ways when they welcome Levante to Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon.
The second international break of the season is over at long last, and La Liga action is set to return this weekend with Matchday 9. Saturday’s lunch-time kick-off will have Real Madrid, who will be aiming to record their first win in nearly a month, when they play hosts to Levante at the Bernabeu.
The teething problems in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era have finally cropped up, following a stellar start to the season. Having gone unbeaten in their first six games of the campaign, Real Madrid have failed to win any of their last four, with the more worrisome aspect of this run being a complete lack of goals.
In fact, Los Blancos last ended up on the right end of a result on September 22, and are closing in on a month without a win.
Levante, on the other hand, have found stable footing after stuttering in the first month or so. The Granotas are placed 11th on the table, albeit just four points behind their hosts Real Madrid and a place in the top four of the La Liga table.
The corresponding fixture last season ended in a result that Real Madrid and Julen Lopetegui cannot afford, with Levante holding them to a 1-1 draw. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Julen Lopetegui has some cause for optimism ahead of the visit of Levante. On Saturday, the Real Madrid boss could welcome a few players who had been left on the sidelines due to various health and fitness issues.
The big news is that Isco (appendicitis) and Marcelo (calf) have trained this week, and should be available for selection after recovering from their respective problems. Gareth Bale’s involvement is touch and go, with the Welshman training alone for the most part to return to peak physical condition.
Karim Benzema’s availability is doubtful as well, with the Frenchman recovering from a hamstring injury. The star striker might be given this weekend to recover completely, meaning Mariano Diaz could get a golden opportunity to impress from the get-go.
Marco Asensio is a certain starter in attack, but the final spot could be a throw up between Isco, Bale and Lucas Vazquez depending on the fitness situation of Isco and Bale. As things stand, Isco looks the likeliest to start on the left side of the Real Madrid attack, with the Spaniard drifting inwards to provide more support to the midfielders.
Speaking of the midfield department, Casemiro and Toni Kroos are automatic selections, with Luka Modric and Dani Ceballos battling for the final slot. The Croat has been far from his best so far this term, with the exertions of the 2018 FIFA World Cup taking their toll. On Saturday though, Modric should start, with Lopetegui likely to opt for his strongest eleven.
At the back, Dani Carvajal is the only regular unavailable, meaning Alvaro Odriozola should be the right-back once again, with Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo completing the back-four. Behind the quartet, Thibaut Courtois should be the goalkeeper once more.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Odriozola, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Mariano Diaz, Isco
Paco Lopez does not have any fresh injury concerns to contend with ahead of the trip to the Spanish capital. On Saturday, the Levante boss could be without as many as five first-team players depending on the progress of a couple of players.
The likes of Coke, Armando Sadiku and Nikola Vukcevic will definitely miss out, with the trio still on the treatment table. Antonio Luna’s availability is in doubt, with the full-back recovering from a muscle injury. Chema though, has returned to training after recovering from a groin injury.
The 26-year-old is now in contention to feature in the new-look back-three that Paco Lopez has adopted to get more men in behind the ball while defending. Rober Pier and Sergio Postigo should start at the back for the visitors, with the final spot being contested between Chema and Erick Cabaco.
Meanwhile, Lopez is likely to choose a 3-4-3 instead of a 3-5-2 this week against a Real Madrid side that has posed a vulnerable look at the back. The choice of formation would see Levante adopt a 5-4-1 formation while off the ball while also attacking with men overloading the final third, whenever given an opportunity.
Jose Campana and Sanjin Prcic will likely be stationed in the middle of the park, with Jason and Tono being the two full-backs. Upfront, Roger Marti will be the central striker, with Enis Bardhi and Jose Luis Morales playing off him. Real Madrid loanee Borja Mayoral will be unable to feature due to the terms of his deal.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Olazabal; Chema, Postigo, Rober Pier; Jason, Prcic, Campana, Tono; Bardhi, Marti, Morales
- The 2 meetings last season between these two clubs produced score draws. Real Madrid had won all of their previous 9 games against Levante.
- Real Madrid are without a win in four games in all competitions (D1 L3), their worst streak since May 2009 (D5), when Juande Ramos was sacked.
- Real Madrid have failed to find the back of the net in four consecutive games in all competitions. Los Blancos are only one game away from equalling their worst ever scoreless streak (five in April 1985).
- Only Lionel Messi (seven) has scored more direct free-kick goals in the Top 5 European Leagues than Levante’s Enis Bardhi (six) since the start of last season.
- Karim Benzema has failed to score in his last seven games across all competitions, his worst streak since May 2017 (eight games). He is two games away from equalling his worst run as a Real Madrid player (nine between September and November 2010).
Player to Watch
Mariano Diaz’s return to Real Madrid hasn’t quite gone as envisioned, with Karim Benzema retaining his place as the first-choice striker despite his poor form. But, with the Frenchman likely to miss out when Levante come visiting, Mariano will have the opportunity to stamp his authority and make a case to usurp the senior striker.
The Dominican Republic man has looked dangerous for the most part, whenever he has come off the bench, even scoring on debut against AS Roma last month. With Real Madrid also in desperate search for goals and wins, any form of contribution towards all three points will help him immensely, which we expect him to do on Saturday.
Real Madrid 2-1 Levante
The season is starting to go pear shaped for Real Madrid. So much so, that Julen Lopetegui is fighting for his future at Santiago Bernabeu. Los Blancos though, have been helped by the fact that everyone around them has stuttered to some extent as well, meaning they still remain just one win away from top spot on the La Liga table.
Their visitors on Saturday, Levante have rediscovered their form and are a truly dangerous proposition. But, the Granotas are equally vulnerable at the back, which should give Lopetegui & co. a huge chance to return to scoring ways at the very least.
With Barcelona playing Sevilla later in the day, Real Madrid also have a major motivation to get all three points and ascend up the table. And, The Hard Tackle predicts the hosts to do just that, although they will have to fight for all three points.