Real Madrid will hope to exorcise the demons of last term when they kick off their 2019-20 La Liga campaign against Celta Vigo at Balaidos on Saturday.
The 2019-20 La Liga season is finally underway, with champions Barcelona kicking their campaign off with the league’s curtain raiser on Friday. On Saturday, It is Real Madrid’s turn to begin their push to get back on top in Spanish football, when Celta Vigo play hosts to them at Balaidos.
2018-19 was a season to forget for Celta Vigo, who narrowly avoided the drop, with a late flourish helping them stave off relegation. The arrival of Fran Escriba in March saw the Sky Blues achieve some sort of stability and after making some shrewd investments, they will hope for a better outcome at the end of the new season.
Real Madrid too, had a forgettable 2018-19 campaign, wherein they finished third in La Liga, 19 points behind champions Barcelona. Los Blancos, in fact, finished their campaign trophyless, bowing out in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Their preparations for the new term has not been too promising and there are concerns that another excruciatingly long season awaits.
The corresponding fixture last season ended in a comfortable 4-2 win for Real Madrid, with Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos getting their names on the scoresheet. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Fran Escriba has a few pressing injury concerns to deal with ahead of his side’s opening La Liga fixture. Against Real Madrid on Saturday, the Celta Vigo boss is set to be without as many as four first-team players due to various fitness issues.
The most notable absentee is summer signing and academy product Santi Mina, who is recovering from a minor ankle complaint that will sideline him till the end of August. In the absence of the 23-year-old, Iago Aspas will have Gabriel Fernandez for company in the strike partnership.
Apart from Mina, Escriba will also not be able to call upon Sergio Alvarez (thigh), David Junca (shoulder) and captain Hugo Mallo (hamstring). It is the absence of Mallo and Junca that will be posing a lot of concerns for the Celta Vigo manager, with Lucas Olaza and Kevin Vazquez set to be the two full-backs against Real Madrid.
At the heat of the Celta Vigo defence, Joseph Aidoo should make his competitive debut for the Galician outfit, with Nestor Araujo being his central defensive partner. The back four should provide cover to Ruben Blanco, a solid performer in goal.
The four-man midfield unit though, will hold the key for Celta Vigo on Saturday, with promising young players like Brais Mendez and Fran Beltran being the potential game changers. Midfield mainstay Stanislav Lobotka will aim to stifle the Real Madrid build-up play, with Denis Suarez starting out on the right.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Blanco; Kevin Vazquez, Araujo, Aidoo, Olaza; Suarez, Beltran, Lobotka, Mendez; Aspas, Fernandez
An injury crisis was a big reason for Real Madrid’s struggles in their pre-season campaign. A number of first-team players continue to remain on the treatment table, with Marco Asensio being a long-term absentee due to a gruesome knee injury that is likely to have ended his season before it even began.
Apart from Asensio, Ferland Mendy, Brahim Diaz and Rodrygo are all sidelined due to their respective hamstring injuries. The big news though, is that Eden Hazard is out for nearly a month after picking up a thigh injury. Finally, Dani Carvajal will also be unavailable due to a suspension accrued in Real Madrid’s final La Liga game last term.
In Carvajal’s stead, Alvaro Odriozola will likely start in what could be the right wing-back slot, with Zinedine Zidane experimenting with a 3-5-2 towards the end of the pre-season. Should the Real Madrid boss retain the formation in the first match of the season, Karim Benzema and Luka Jovic could comprise the strike partnership.
In this partnership, Benzema could play off Jovic, dropping down and looking to be the link between attack and midfield, while also posing a major goal threat. At the back, summer arrival Eder Militao, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane will hope to keep things tight. And, the trio will also likely be a big source of goals, with the threat that they will pose in set-piece situations.
The midfield line will see Marcelo and Odriozola being the two full-backs, aiming to float the ball in from out wide, while Casemiro will sit in the Real Madrid engine room. The creativity from the central areas will come in the form of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, both of whom will hope to prove that last season was but an anomaly.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Courtois; Militao, Varane, Ramos; Odriozola, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Marcelo; Jovic, Benzema
- Saturday’s clash will be the 33rd time the two sides will have met. Real Madrid dominate the head-to-head record, winning 21 of those matches, with Celta victorious on just seven occasions (D4).
- The fixture has been a goal fest in recent years, with Real Madrid’s last five visits to Balaidos producing a staggering 25 goals.
- Real Madrid’s defensive record away from home is anything but positive, with Los Blancos managing to keep just two clean sheets in their last 23 La Liga games on the road.
- Celta Vigo has won four, drawn four and lost four games in the 12 competitive fixtures that Fran Escriba has overseen since being appointed as the manager in March.
- Iago Aspas has scored nine goals in his last nine La Liga appearances for Celta Vigo.
Player to Watch
After a much talked about move that saw Real Madrid land Luka Jovic, making him their second summer signing, negative reports surrounding the Serb has been the dominant talking point lately. So much so, that there has been speculation that Jovic could be on his way out of the Bernabeu on loan.
However, in his pre-match press conference, Zinedine Zidane has claimed that he is happy with all the new arrivals at the club, meaning talks of a possible exit could be unfounded. It is now up to Jovic to hit back at his naysayers, with performances on the pitch.
With Eden Hazard sidelined for a month, and the likes of Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez not really commanding a lot of faith from Zidane, it could be a crucial few weeks for the Serbian hit-man to make his mark. Whether Jovic makes his opportunity count remains to be seen.
Celta Vigo 1-2 Real Madrid
For much of the pre-season, it looked as if Real Madrid were only continuing on the same path that they were on last term. But, a closer look suggests that a raft of injuries played a crucial role in their struggles, coupled with the fact that there were some off-field issues troubling the dressing room as well.
But, with most of the key stars fit and available ahead of their La Liga season opener, Real Madrid will be in a much better shape to launch their challenge for the season. Celta Vigo though, will fancy their chances of grabbing a point or three on Saturday, despite struggling to have the measure of the Merengues in recent seasons.
In the end, however, Real Madrid should do enough to get over the line, if only just, with Eden Hazard possibly playing a pivotal role in his competitive bow for Los Blancos. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Zinedine Zidane & co. to kickstart their 2019-20 La Liga campaign.