Real Madrid will be desperately looking to get back to winning ways when they welcome Levante to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
Club football is back following the end of the first international break of the season. On Saturday, Real Madrid will kick things off in La Liga, as they take on fourth-placed Levante at the Bernabeu, looking to record their first home win of the league campaign.
Real Madrid had started the season off in fine fashion, coasting to 3-1 win over Celta Vigo despite being a man down for much of the second half. But, the subsequent two results have left a sour taste in the mouth, with Los Blancos being held to successive draws by Real Valladolid and Villarreal.
The twin stalemates have left Real Madrid fifth on the La Liga table, which coupled with an injury crisis, brewing since the start of the season, has already left Zinedine Zidane & co. in a spot of bother. Levante, on the other hand, have done well to get themselves up to fourth in the standings.
Alaves had handed the Granotas a narrow 1-0 defeat on the opening weekend. But, back-to-back wins over the same opponents that Real Madrid have failed to beat have given Paco Lopez’s men the momentum that they will hope to build on in the Spanish capital this weekend.
The corresponding fixture last season had ended in a 2-1 win for Levante, with early goals from Jose Luis Morales and Roger Marti being enough to get the visitors a huge win over Real Madrid. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackles takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
The end of the international break has given way to both good and bad news for Zinedine Zidane. While the Real Madrid boss is set to welcome two first-team stars back into contention this weekend, a couple of fresh injury concerns are threatening to leave him stretched for options in midfield.
Luka Modric has sustained a groin injury that should leave him sidelined for the remainder of the month, while Federico Valverde returned from Uruguay duty injured and will not play a part against Levante. As a result, Zidane is left with three options for three midfield slots.
The good news though, is that while Isco remains unavailable, one of the three midfielders at the disposal of the Real Madrid manager is the returning James Rodriguez, who has recovered from a calf injury. Also back in contention this weekend, is Eden Hazard, who is finally set to make his Real Madrid debut.
But, there are concerns in attack as well, with the in-form Gareth Bale suspended after being sent off against Villarreal. Brahim Diaz, meanwhile, is still struggling with a groin injury, while the game has come too soon for Rodrygo, although the Brazilian prodigy has returned to training.
Luka Jovic was also an injury concern after picking up a knock while representing Serbia. But, the summer signing has trained this week and like Hazard, will be in line for a place in the starting lineup. Jovic though, could be used as a backup option against Levante, with Zidane reverting to the 4-3-3 formation after surprisingly using a 4-4-2 last time out.
Karim Benzema should thus, lead the line for Real Madrid, with Hazard and Vinicius Jr. being the two wide men. In midfield, James Rodriguez, Casemiro and Toni Kroos pick themselves, with James operating as more of a no. 10 when Real Madrid have possession of the ball.
At the back, there are no injury concerns whatsoever, although Zidane will be fretting about Dani Carvajal’s form. Carvajal though, should keep his place in the side, with Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Ferland Mendy starting as well. Thibaut Courtois will take his place in goal for Real Madrid.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; James, Casemiro, Kroos; Vinicius Jr., Benzema, Hazard
Paco Lopez barely has any injury concerns on his hands ahead of the trip to the Spanish capital this weekend. Against Real Madrid on Saturday, the Levante manager will be without just one first-team player, while having greeted the return of a key player during the international break.
Coke is fit and available after recovering from a hip injury and should be in contention to return to the starting lineup straightaway. The 32-year-old should start ahead of Jorge Miramon on the right side of the Levante defence.
The only absentee for the visitors is Rober Pier, who is recovering from a long-term knee injury. In his stead, summer signing Ruben Vezo will continue to feature at the heart of the Levante defence alongside Sergio Postigo, with Carlos Clerc completing the backline. Aitor Fernandez will take his place in goal, where he will likely be a busy man against the Real Madrid attack.
The key decision that Paco Lopez has to make ahead of his side’s meeting with Real Madrid is his choice of formation. The Levante boss has tinkered with his system in every game. But, after their 2-0 win over Real Valladolid, it is likely that he will stick with the 4-4-2.
In this formation, the central midfielders – likely to be Nikola Vukcevic and Enis Bardhi – will hold the key, with the wide men ensuring the visitors are able to overload midfield. These two wide men will be captain Jose Luis Morales and Ruben Rochina, who will also be the creative forces for Levante.
Upfront, the strike partnership ought to comprise of Roger Marti and Real Madrid loanee Borja Mayoral, with the latter available after Real Madrid decided to waive off their policy of rendering their on-loan players ineligible against them.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Fernandez; Coke, Vezo, Postigo, Clerc; Rochina, Bardhi, Vukcevic, Morales; Marti, Mayoral
- Real Madrid have only won one of their last four La Liga games against Levante (D2 L1), having won nine consecutive matches against the Valencian side in the top-flight prior to this run.
- Only four sides are unbeaten at the Santiago Bernabeu in LaLiga against Real Madrid in the last two seasons. Levante (W1 D1) are one of these.
- Real Madrid are winless in their last two La Liga games at the Bernabeu (D1 L1), last going longer without a home victory in the competition back in the 2017-18 season (D2 L1), also under Zinedine Zidane.
- After winning six of their first 11 LaLiga away games under Paco Lopez (D1 L4), Levante have only won two of their last 15 away games in the division (D4 L9).
- Karim Benzema has scored seven of Real Madrid’s last 10 goals at the Bernabeu in La Liga.
Player to Watch
It has taken a while for Eden Hazard to get to this moment. But, the Belgian wing wizard is finally set to realise his dream and turn out for Real Madrid in a competitive setting. His belated debut comes courtesy a thigh injury that had rendered him unavailable last month. But, having trained this week, Hazard will be raring to go.
With Gareth Bale unavailable due to suspension, the responsibility of coming up with the creative goods in the final third will rest on Hazard’s shoulders. The Belgian will also provide quite the goal threat, something Real Madrid have been yearning for since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The presence of the Belgian international should ease some of the burden of Karim Benzema, who has been carrying Real Madrid on his back for more than a year now. Will it be a dream debut for Hazard? We will know soon.
Real Madrid 2-1 Levante
It has been a rather tough start to the season for Real Madrid, who have been beset frustratingly beset with injuries. But, the returning Eden Hazard should provide the hosts an uplift, even though the in-form Gareth Bale will now be featuring when Levante come visiting.
Speaking of Levante, the Granotas will be brimming with confidence following the international break, prior to which they rose to 4th on the La Liga table. With Paco Lopez’s men not showing many defensive vulnerabilities so far, it should be a tightly contested affair.
But, a motivated Hazard should pave the way for a hard-fought win for Real Madrid, who should record their first home win of the season, but only just. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 for Zinedine Zidane & co., whose frailties at the back should make the contest interesting.