Real Madrid will be desperately looking to get back to winning ways when they face Alaves at the Mendizorrotza on Saturday.
Following a defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final and a shock early exit from the Copa Del Rey, Real Madrid are once again under pressure as they look to end their three-game winless run this weekend. The defending La Liga champions had also dropped two points in their last league fixture against Osasuna – a result that allowed Atletico Madrid to extend their lead at the top.
Zinedine Zidane’s men, as a result, are running the risk of losing their bid in the title race as they lock horns with Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. In fact, another mishap this weekend could even allow Barcelona to overtake them in the league table, with the Catalan giants currently trailing Los Blancos only by three points.
Alaves, on the other hand, have been one of the worst-performing teams in the division this season. They have secured just four wins in 19 matches and are one point clear of safety, with 18th-placed Elche having two games in hand. El Glorioso are also on a three-match losing streak in all competitions, notably getting humiliated 5-0 by Almeria in Copa Del Rey last weekend.
However, one of their four victories this season have come against Real Madrid in the reverse fixture. It was a splendid 2-1 triumph that further derailed the title bid for the reigning champions. And coach Abelardo Fernandez will be hoping for a similar result this weekend as we run the rule over these two sides ahead of this crucial match-up in La Liga.
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— Deportivo Alavés (@Alaves) January 21, 2021
Abelardo is likely to persist with the 4-4-2 that earned him the success in the reverse fixture, with two banks of four providing cover for goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco. He is unlikely to miss out on any first-team players either, although the absence of Rodrigo Ely means he could short of defensive reinforcements if required.
As such, the defensive back-four is likely to remain the same that started in the reverse fixture. Florian Lejeune and Victor Laguardia should continue to form the central defensive pairing, with additional support from the two full-backs, Ximo Navarro and Ruben Duarte. They are all expected to operate narrow and deep, leaving Real Madrid devoid of any space to work with in and around the penalty area.
The central midfield combination of Tomas Pina and Rodrigo Battaglia, meanwhile, are expected to play rough. They will look to disrupt Madrid’s flow in midfield with their challenges, ultimately looking to minimise the supply in the final third.
There might be one little change in the side, with right-back Martin Aguirregabiria starting ahead of Jota at right wing. Luis Rioja should be deployed on the opposite flank, though the wide duo are mainly expected to operate narrowly and aid the two central midfielders in the second line of press.
On the other hand, they could also play a key role on the counter. Their work-ethic could be critical as they look to provide the transition from defence to attack, where Edgar Mendez and Joselu will be ready to pounce on any opportunities.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Pacheco; Navarro, Laguardia, Lejeune, Duarte; Aguirregabiria, Pina, Battaglia, Rioja; Joselu, Mendez
As for Real Madrid, we can expect Zinedine Zidane to ring in the changes from the side that fell to a shock 2-1 defeat to Alcoyano in the Copa Del Rey. In fact, it won’t be surprising to see the Frenchman making as many as ten changes, as he looks to recall all of his first-team players in an effort to seal an important win this weekend.
Starting from goal, Thibaut Courtois should return to the side, while Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane will renew their central defensive partnership. Lucas Vazquez should get the nod ahead of Alvaro Odriozola at right-back, amid the absence of Dani Carvajal. As for the left-back slot, Marcelo should be replaced by Ferland Mendy as usual.
In midfield, Zidane should retain the services of Casemiro in the holding midfield slot. His work-ethic and aggression could be important against a competent Alaves midfield. But while the Brazilian is expected to provide the solidity, the onus will be on Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to add that creative essence that was missing not only in the reverse fixture but also in the recent defeat to Alcoyano.
The attacking nature of the two full-backs means we can expect Real Madrid to dominate possession as they did last time out. Both Mendy and Vazquez could virtually camp themselves in the opposition half, looking to provide crosses into the box. But, the wingers Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio could be equally responsible when it comes to providing the supply for lone striker Karim Benzema.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Ramos, Varane, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Hazard, Benzema, Asensio
- After their 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in La Liga this season, Alaves could record consecutive league wins over Real Madrid for the first time in the club’s history this weekend.
- Real Madrid have been beaten on just two of their 15 visits to Alaves in La Liga, the first one coming in March 1931 and the other one October 2018.
- Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last six La Liga visits to Basques sides, after losing their previous three such away league games in the competition.
- Alaves have won just one of their last 18 league games against sides from Madrid, that sole victory coming against Real Madrid away from home last November. Their last win at the Mendizorrotza against a Madrilean team in the competition was back in October 2018, also against Real Madrid.
- After losing back to back La Liga away games between February-March 2020, Real Madrid have lost just one of their last 15 matches on the road in the competition, 4-1 against Valencia in November.
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Amidst all the problems they had against Alcoyano in the last game, what Real Madrid truly missed with the presence of a quality forward and that is why the return of Karim Benzema to the starting eleven could serve as a massive boost for the Merengues this weekend as they hope to beat Alaves.
The Frenchman has been involved in 13 goals in just 16 league matches so far, becoming the club’s top scorer by quite some margin. His productivity could, therefore, spell trouble for Alaves. In addition, the Basque outfit should also remain aware of the overall tactical versatility he offers as well as his link-up play with his teammates in the final third.
With the likes of Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio set to make their return to the starting eleven, stopping Benzema should indeed be the priority for the home side this weekend.
Deportivo Alaves 1-2 Real Madrid
Real Madrid have not fared well against Alaves over the past couple of years. They are also in the middle of a three-match winless run, so it won’t be surprising to see them struggle in this one as well.
However, with Zinedine Zidane having the privilege of choosing from an almost fully fit squad, it remains unlikely that Alaves, who have lost four of their last five matches, will once again succeed in stopping Los Blancos this weekend. It could be a tight one, with the visitors sealing a narrow 2-1 victory.