Real Madrid will be hoping to return to winning ways when they visit Campo de Futbol de Vallecas to take on Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

The matches continue to come thick and fast in the 2018-19 La Liga season. While the title race may have been done and dusted, there are still a few battles that continue to be played. Rayo Vallecano will continue their battle against relegation when they play hosts to Real Madrid at Campo de Futbol de Vallecas on Sunday.

It has been a trial by fire for Rayo Vallecano upon their return to the Spanish top-flight. Los Franjirrojos might not have been blown away by the opposition, but the fact that they have only managed seven wins all season long means they rightfully find themselves rock-bottom in the La Liga standings.

Getting clear of the drop zone looks highly unlikely too for Paco Jemez’s men, with Real Valladolid seven points ahead of them in 17th.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, have also endured a 2018-19 campaign to forget, albeit for different reasons. Los Blancos stand no chance of winning a trophy this season, having been booted out of the Champions League and Copa del Rey in the last couple of months while also being well away from the La Liga title race for much of the season. A second-placed finish looks unlikely as well, with Atletico Madrid 9 points ahead.

The reverse fixture, played at the Santiago Bernabeu back in December last year, saw Real Madrid grab a narrow 1-0 win, thanks to their best player of the season Karim Benzema. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano will sorely miss the services of Raul de Tomas (extreme left). (Photo by Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

Rayo Vallecano will sorely miss the services of Raul de Tomas (extreme right in white). (Photo by Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

Paco Jemez does not have many pressing concerns surrounding the availability of key personnel ahead of the visit of Zinedine Zidane & co. But, the Rayo Vallecano manager will be without star striker Raul de Tomas, who is ineligible to feature due to the terms of his loan deal from Real Madrid.

The hosts had reportedly been attempting to gain clearance for de Tomas to play this weekend. But, the young striker remains ineligible, meaning he misses a second successive game, having been suspended for the 5-0 loss to Sevilla earlier this week.

In his stead, Franco Di Santo should continue leading the line for Rayo Vallecano. Around the 30-year-old, however, Jemez should make a few shuffles while also changing his formation by reverting to the 4-2-3-1. The change in the system should see Jose Pozo slot in as the no. 10, with Gael Kakuta and Adrian Embarba being the two wide men.

The midfield double pivot should see Mario Suarez and Uche Agbo retain their places, with the latter having the more defensive outlook of the two players. At the back, Jordi Amat and Emiliano Velazquez should be the two centre-backs, with Alex Moreno and Luis Advincula flanking them. In goal, Alberto Garcia should be a busy man.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Garcia; Advincula, Velazquez, Amat, Moreno; Suarez, Agbo; Embarba, Pozo, Kakuta; Di Santo

Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane has been dealt the biggest blow since returning to the helm at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid will be bereft of the services of their top scorer, with Karim Benzema ruled out of the game due to a leg injury.

To add insult to injury, there are fears that Benzema could have played his last game of the season. In his place, Zidane has one of two options to fill the huge void. The Real Madrid boss could either bank on Gareth Bale or throw Mariano Diaz into the deep end.

With Bale hardly impressing in recent games, it is likely that Mariano could get a rare chance to impress on Sunday, with the Welshman being dropped altogether. In Bale’s stead, Marco Asensio is expected to be the one to start, with Brahim Diaz holding on to his spot on the right after impressing in the goalless draw against Getafe this week.

In the middle of the park, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are due a recall, after the creative duo were benched for the midweek clash. Isco and Federico Valverde should make way for the experienced stars, while Casemiro should keep his place as the holding midfielder.

At the back, Zidane does not have club captain Sergio Ramos at his disposal and in his absence, Raphael Varane will continue to shoulder more responsibility. Varane’s partner on Sunday should be Jesus Vallejo, with the Real Madrid manager continuing to give the youngster the chances.

Alvaro Odriozola is another defender who is unavailable, meaning Dani Carvajal continues as the right-back, while Marcelo should return to the side on the opposite flank. Behind the defence, Sunday’s game could be the one that sees Thibaut Courtois return to action for the first time since recovering from injury.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Vallejo, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Brahim Diaz, Mariano Diaz, Asensio

Real Madrid

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have been on the right side of the result in each of the last 17 meetings between them and Rayo Vallecano.
  • Real Madrid have gone the duration of five matches and a bit more (477 minutes) since seeing someone other than Karim Benzema scoring. That player was Dani Ceballos, in the 3-2 win over Huesca, with Benzema coincidentally assisting his goal.
  • Rayo Vallecano have the worst defensive record in La Liga this season, having conceded a massive 62 goals thus far.
  • Real Madrid have struggled on the defensive front on their travels, having kept just two clean sheets on the road in La Liga this season.
  • Rayo Vallecano are on a terrible run of form, having won only one of their last thirteen matches (D2 L10), although that success came this month against Valencia.

Player to Watch

Mariano Diaz

The best chance for Mariano to prove his worth. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

The best chance for Mariano to prove his worth. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Real Madrid sprang quite a surprise when they decided to re-sign Mariano Diaz from Lyon last summer. But, the return to the Spanish capital has not quite gone as envisaged for the young striker, who has seen a number of injuries restrict his game time this term considerably.

But, with Karim Benzema missing out on Sunday, and possibly further, Mariano has the perfect chance to impress Zinedine Zidane and prove that he could indeed have a future at the Santiago Bernabeu. Time is running out for him, however, with reports linking Real Madrid with several strikers running rampant. It is now or never for Mariano Diaz against Rayo Vallecano.

Prediction

Rayo Vallecano 1-2 Real Madrid

Predicting Sunday’s game against Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano is somewhat odd to say the least. Los Franjirrojos have been the worst side in La Liga this season so far, and have won just one of their last 13 games, while the visitors have their fair share of problems away from home, especially on the defensive front.

But, the fact that the appointment of Paco Jemez has not had the desired effect at Rayo means that it is hard to see Real Madrid drop points at Campo de Futbol de Vallecas, even with Karim Benzema missing. The Hard Tackle thus, predicts a 2-1 win for Zinedine Zidane & co. in their second derby of the week.

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