Real Madrid will be looking to seal their first La Liga title since 2017 when they host Villarreal at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Thursday.
Over the past decade or so, Real Madrid haven’t had much success on the domestic front, with Barcelona largely dominating La Liga. In fact, the Catalan giants have won six league title out of nine completed seasons since 2010, with Real Madrid winning only two.
But on Thursday, the club from the capital will have the chance to add to that tally when they host Villarreal at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. Indeed, Los Blancos are heading into the game with a four-point lead over second-placed Barcelona. And with just two games remaining, including this one, a win should be enough to seal the title for Real Madrid, irrespective of Barcelona’s result against Osasuna.
However, things could be tricky against a Villarreal side, who have been one of the best performing teams in La Liga this season. The club from Castellon have no chance of finishing inside top four but will be keen on finishing the campaign above Getafe (6th) and Real Sociedad (7th).
They haven’t been in good form, though, notably losing two of their last three league matches, with their latest debacle coming against Real Sociedad in the last game. Real Madrid, in contrast, are looking to extend their winning run to ten games in domestic competitions.
And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides in this deciding fixture in La Liga this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
Having played against Granada only a few days ago, Zinedine Zidane is naturally expected to make rotations in his squad. But given the importance of this fixture, he could opt for the strongest possible lineup, aside from some obvious alterations, especially in the attacking department.
Real Madrid’s top-scorer Karim Benzema is a guaranteed starter in the number nine role. But, the Frenchman could be partnered by Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard, coming in at the expense of Isco and Federico Valverde.
Luka Modric was in sublime form in the win over Granada. He also played the full ninety minutes, though that shouldn’t deter Zidane from giving him the nod ahead of Valverde or Isco in the Real Madrid midfield. The Croatian, therefore, should line up alongside Toni Kroos and Casemiro in the three-man midfield unit.
In defence, the return of Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal served as a major boost for Real Madrid in the last game. Those two are guaranteed to retain their place in the starting lineup, with Ramos operating alongside Raphael Varane in central defence while Carvajal will be deployed in his customary right-back slot.
Elsewhere, Ferland Mendy is the only option available at left-back, with Marcelo out injured. And in goal, Thibaut Courtois will be looking for his 19th clean sheet of the campaign, after having produced a stellar display against Granada last time out.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Hazard, Benzema, Asensio
Villarreal are not the most defensively astute teams in the league. But, they do certainly pack a punch going forward, with striker Gerard Moreno scoring 16 goals this term. He missed out on the last game due to yellow card suspension but is in contention to start this week.
Moreno should feature alone up top, especially with Paco Alcacer a doubt heading into this fixture. It essentially means that Villarreal coach Javier Calleja could stick to a 4-2-3-1 setup, with the creative trio of Samuel Chukwueze, Santi Cazorla and Javi Ontiveros providing support in the final third.
In midfield, Calleja could continue with the duo of Vicente Iborra and Andre Zambo Anguissa forming the double-pivot, although Manu Trigueros is also an option. These two will play a key role in providing solidity in the second line of press for Villarreal.
And finally, in defence, the club is missing out on the services of Ramiro Funes Mori, although it wouldn’t make any difference to Calleja’s preference of starting with Pau Torres and Raul Albiol at the heart of Villarreal’s four-man backline.
Elsewhere, Ruben Pena and Alberto Moreno should occupy the full-back slots with Sergio Asenjo starting in between the sticks, looking for his 12th clean sheet of the campaign.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Asenjo; Pena, Albiol, Torres, Moreno; Iborra, Anguissa; Chukuweze, Cazorla, Ontiveros; Moreno
- Real Madrid have the best defence in La Liga, having conceded just 22 goals in 36 matches.
- Real Madrid could extend their winning run to ten games in domestic competitions, making them the in-form side in Europe.
- Real Madrid have scored at least 2 goals in their last 4 matches against Villarreal in all competitions.
- Villarreal have won their last four away matches.
- Only Real Madrid and Barcelona have scored more goals than Villarreal in La Liga this season.
Player to Watch
Real Madrid’s defence in the last game was far from perfect. They struggled to cope with Granada’s quick breaks and went very close to conceding the second goal in the second half. And while there are no guarantees that it will improve this time around, the onus will be Courtois to save his side’s blushes once again.
As mentioned earlier, the Belgian was the star performer for Real Madrid in the last game. And with a save percentage of 79%, he has been the best goalkeeper in La Liga and arguably, in the top five European leagues this season.
Courtois’ reflexes, combined with his positioning and confidence have increased under Zidane. But they could be tested against a Villarreal side known for their attacking prowess. Hence, he is one of the players worth keeping an eye on this week.
Real Madrid 3-2 Villarreal
Only Real Madrid and Barcelona have scored more goals than Villarreal this season, which is enough to signify the attacking threat provided by Calleja’s men. And with the Real Madrid defence struggling in the last game, we could potentially witness a thriller, although we do expect the home side to clinch a narrow win and thereby, seal the La Liga title for the first time since 2017.