Real Madrid will be aiming to return to winning ways, when they welcome Javier Calleja’s Villarreal to the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday afternoon.

After picking up just one win in their last four matches, Real Madrid will be looking to bounce back strongly when they face off against Villarreal in matchweek 36 of the 2018-19 La Liga.

It has been quite a disappointing season for Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s Los Blancos are third in the La Liga table, nine points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid. The only chance they stand of finishing as the runners-up would be if they win all their fixtures from hereon, after their local rivals lost to Espanyol on Saturday.

However, given their recent form it does look extremely unlikely. Real Madrid come into the game on the back of a narrow 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano, prior to which they were held to a goalless draw in another derby encounter by Getafe. They can take confidence from the fact that they have won all of their previous four home matches.

Villarreal, on the other hand, after fighting the threat of relegation for most of the season, seem to have finally pulled towards safety. The Yellow Submarine are unbeaten in their last four league outings (W3 D1), with their most recent fixture ending in a 1-1 draw against Huesca, which has helped them move to the 14th spot in the table.

Javier Calleja’s side are five points ahead of 18th-placed Real Valladolid and with relegation still a mathematical possibility, they cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball in the remaining three matches of the season.

The last contest between Real Madrid and Villarreal in January earlier this year ended in a 2-2 draw and both teams will be pushing for all three points this time out. Ahead of the enticing match-up on Sunday, let’s take a closer look at both the teams;

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Real Madrid continue to be without the services of captain and star defender Sergio Ramos, while Alvaro Odriozola and leading goalscorer Karim Benzema are also set to miss out as they continue their recoveries. Vinicius Junior is back to full fitness and is back in the 19-man squad named by Zidane, although Luka Modric has been rested.

Thibaut Courtois started between the sticks last time out and could once again feature from the get-go ahead of Keylor Navas. Marcelo had a poor game and should make way for Sergio Reguilon at left-back, while Dani Carvajal should continue on the right side. Raphael Varane should pair up with Nacho at the heart of the defence, with Jesus Vallejo dropping out.

Casemiro did not start against Rayo last time out, but should return at the base of the midfield for Real Madrid, at the expense of Marcos Llorente. Toni Kroos should hold on to his place in the middle of the park and is likely to be partnered with young Federico Valverde, who has impressed in the limited opportunities that have come his way.

With Benzema still unavailable, Mariano Diaz is likely to continue to spearhead the attack. Brahim Diaz has made a strong impression in his last few appearances and should return to the side on the right flank, while Marco Asensio is likely to feature on the opposite wing, with Gareth Bale dropping out of the team.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Reguilon; Kroos, Casemiro, Valverde; Brahim Diaz, Mariano Diaz, Asensio

Villarreal

The visitors have been dealt a blow as forward Karl Toko Ekambi and midfielder Santiago Caseres are both suspended for the contest. Star striker Carlos Bacca is still not 100% fit, meaning he is unlikely to feature from the start on Sunday. However, Villarreal have been boosted by the return of Vicente Iborra, who was suspended for the last game.

Calleja is likely to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Real Madrid, with Andres Fernandez starting between the sticks ahead of Sergio Asenjo. Mario Gaspar is a guaranteed starter at right-back and on the opposite side Xavier Quinitilla is likely to get the nod once again, ahead of Jaume Costa. Alvaro Gonzalez and Ramiro Funes Mori will pair up at the heart of the backline.

The two-man midfield pivot for Villarreal shall see the returning Vicente Iborra partner up with veteran midfielder Santi Cazorla, who scored both the goals for the Yellow Submarine in the reverse fixture. Pablo Fornals will take over the creative mantle starting in the No. 10 role for the visitors.

Samuel Chukwueze is the obvious choice to line up on the right flank. The youngster can prove to be a handful to the Madrid defence with his pace and skills. On the opposite side, Alfonso Pedraza could get the nod with Toko Ekambi unavailable, while Gerard Moreno should lead the line for Calleja’s side, with Bacca still not fully fit.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Fernandez; Gaspar, Gonzalez, Funes Mori, Quintilla; Iborra, Cazorla; Chukwueze, Fornals, Pedraza; Moreno

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have collected 65 points in La Liga this season after 35 games, their lowest figure at this stage since the 2001-02 season (also 65).
  • Villarreal have won two of their last seven La Liga games against Real Madrid (D3 L2), as many as in their previous 30 games against them in the Spanish top-flight (W2 D9 L19).
  • Real Madrid have failed to score in back to back La Liga games for the first time under Zinedine Zidane (D1 L1).
  • Villarreal have lost 21 games against Real Madrid in La Liga, more than against any other opponent (alongside Barcelona).
  • Six of the last eight Real Madrid league goals against Villarreal have been headers, including the last two in the reverse fixture this season scored by Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane.

Player to Watch

Brahim Diaz

Brahim Diaz has impressed in his limited opportunities (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

Brahim Diaz has impressed in his limited opportunities (Photo by Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

Signed by Real Madrid from Manchester City in the January transfer window, Brahim Diaz hasn’t really gotten a proper run in the first-team till date. But, each time an opportunity has fallen his way, the versatile attacker has made sure that he has left a strong impression.

In his first league start for the Merengues against Huesca last month, Diaz was one of the standout players while he was also one of the few positives in the dull 0-0 draw against Getafe ten days ago. Till date, the 19-year-old has featured 8 times in all competitions (194 minutes), setting up one goal.

Diaz has shown glimpses of his ability in the handful of chances that he has been afforded and he should look to make a telling impact once again should Zidane hand him another opportunity against Villarreal on Sunday.

Prediction

Real Madrid 1-1 Villarreal

Based on recent form, Villarreal will know that Real Madrid are very much there for the taking. Zinedine Zidane’s men have picked up just one win in their last four games and succumbed to a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano last time out. On the other hand, Villarreal have won three of their last four league matches, which should fill them with great confidence.

Without leading goalscorer Karim Benzema, Real Madrid have really struggled in attack and that is likely to be the case once again on Sunday. The visitors too are missing a couple of key attackers in the form of Karl Toko Ekambi and Carlos Bacca, which is likely to hamper their attacking output as well. As a result, we at The Hard Tackle are predicting the contest to end in a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.

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