Real Madrid will be hoping to continue their perfect start under Santiago Solari when they travel to the Ipurua to take on SD Eibar on Saturday

Spanish football is set to return to action this weekend after the near-fortnight long international break. At the Ipurua Municipal Stadium, Real Madrid will be looking to hand Santiago Solari his first win as the permanent manager when SD Eibar welcome them to the Basque country on Saturday.

Eibar have been hit and miss so far in the 2018-19 season, having failed to win two games in a row at any period in the first three months. The inconsistent run of results invariably reflects on their standing on the La Liga table, with the Basque outfit 13th, and just five points outside the relegation zone.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, have finally found some semblance of consistency, with the change of guard at the helm inspiring a turnaround of sorts. Los Blancos have won each of their first four games under the tutelage of Santiago Solari, who was handed permanent charge of the side during the international break. They will now hope to continue their ascent up the La Liga standings.

The corresponding fixture last season ended in a narrow 2-1 win for Real Madrid, with the now departed Cristiano Ronaldo scoring both the goals. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

SD Eibar

A raucous Ipurua will welcome Real Madrid on Saturday. (Photo by Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images)

A raucous Ipurua will welcome Real Madrid on Saturday. (Photo by Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images)

Jose Luis Mendilibar has a gamut of roster issues hampering his preparations for the weekend. Ahead of the visit of Real Madrid on Saturday, the SD Eibar boss will be without as many as seven first-team players due to fitness issues or suspension.

The major absentees for the hosts will be Marko Dmitrovic (groin), Anaitz Arbilla and Pape Kouli Diop, who are key figures in goal, defensive line and midfield. The other players who are sidelined include Sergi Enrich (calf), Ivan Ramis (thigh), Pedro Leon (foot) and Jordi Calavera (thigh).

In the absence of Dmitrovic, veteran goalkeeper Asier Riesgo is likely to be deployed between the sticks. Meanwhile, Arbilla’s void is likely to be filled by Pedro Bigas, who should provide company to Paulo Oliviera at the heart of the Eibar defence, with Ruben Pena and Jose Angel being the full-backs.

Meanwhile, Mendilibar should set his side up in the usual high press tactics, with the back four occupying a high line. The midfield unit, on the other hand, will aim to create overloads in the middle of the park while also recycling the ball quickly. Diop is a major absentee in midfield, and should be replaced by Sergio Alvarez, who should have Gonzalo Escalante for company.

Up ahead in attack, Charles is a certain starter in the absence of Enrich, while Fabian Orellana has quickly established himself as a key figure on the right flank. The X-Factor for Eibar though, will be Barcelona loanee Marc Cucurella, who is starting to flourish on the left side of the attack.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Riesgo; Pena, Oliviera, Bigas, Angel; Alvarez, Escalante; Orellana, Jordan, Cucurella; Charles

Eibar

Real Madrid

Santiago Solari’s injuries woes have eased up considerably, with a number of players fit and available after initial fears of a crisis at hand for the new Real Madrid boss. On Saturday, the manager will be without just three first-team players, with Nacho (knee), Casemiro (ankle) and Sergio Reguilon (hamstring) on the treatment table.

But, the good news is that the likes of Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Marcelo and Mariano Diaz are all set to return to action against Eibar. As a result, Solari will have his first-choice back four available for selection for the first time since being named as Julen Lopetegui’s replacement.

Mariano, meanwhile, will likely be on the bench, with Karim Benzema starting to return to form. The big concern for Solari though, will be the performances that Gareth Bale and Luka Modric produce. The duo, who were supposed to be the talismans for Real Madrid, have been abhorring for much of the season so far, and will need to improve going forward.

Meanwhile, Casemiro’s absence is likely to be filled in by Dani Ceballos, with Toni Kroos likely to play in a deeper role than usual against Eibar. Ceballos will be the workhorse in the middle of the park, with Modric taking up the creative responsibility in the final third.

Bale and Benzema are automatic selections in attack, with the final spot in the side being a toss up between Marco Asensio, Isco and Vinicius Jr. Vinicius is likely to remain a dark horse for Real Madrid, while Isco hasn’t enjoyed Solari’s confidence thus far. Asensio should thus, start in the front three.

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

Real Madrid

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have only lost one of their last 25 La Liga outings against Basque teams (W20 D4), in their last outing (0-1 at Mendizorrotza against Alaves in October).
  • After a goalless draw against Real Valldolid on the last Matchday, Eibar are now looking to keep back to back LaLiga clean sheets for the first time since April 2018.
  • Eibar have lost possession of the ball a league-high 2175 times in La Liga this season, with Real Madrid giving the ball away a league-low 1462 times.
  • Jose Luis Mendilibar has only won one of his 17 league games as a manager versus Real Madrid (D3 L13), 1-0 in November 2008 in charge of Real Valladolid.
  • Marco Asensio has scored four league goals against Eibar, more than against any other team in his La Liga career.

Player to Watch

Luka Modric

The man whose form remains a concern. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

The man whose form remains a concern. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Luka Modric had entered the summer break, belatedly so, after enjoying one of his finest seasons of his career. But, the Croat has struggled to no end since returning to action for Real Madrid, looking jaded for the most part and failing to provide the creative nous in the final third.

However, after a couple of promising displays in the international break, Modric will hope to signal a return to form at club level as well, especially with Real Madrid being linked with playmakers lately. A strong showing against Eibar will also be crucial to his side’s long-term fortunes, with their La Liga title race still alive for them.

Prediction

Eibar 1-3 Real Madrid

Real Madrid are starting to find their feet after a disastrous start to their campaign. With Barcelona dropping points on the last Matchday, they now sit just four points adrift of the summit. And, with their two bitter rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona playing each other later on Saturday, there is a chance to bridge the gap to the top.

Eibar, on the other hand, have struggled to build on their successful campaign last term, with inconsistency being the name of the game. With only two wins in their six games at home thus far, Los Armeros aren’t a hard nut to crack at the Ipurua either, something which Basque sides are known to thrive on.

All things considered, Real Madrid could end up making short work of Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men, with their major objective being overseeing Gareth Bale and Luka Modric’s return to form. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Santiago Solari & co. to make it five wins in a row for the Argentine.