Real Madrid will be hoping to pile the pressure on league leaders Atletico Madrid when they take on Valencia on Sunday.

The upcoming matchday in La Liga could be a vital one in the context of the title race. Atletico Madrid’s draw with Celta Vigo in the last game has sparked a ray of hope for the chasing pack including Real Madrid, who are trailing their cross-town rivals by just five points heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.

The record European champions, though, could be dealt with a tricky test on Sunday as they play hosts to Valencia. It is a must-win game for Los Blancos, whose defeat to Levante has allowed arch-rivals Barcelona to make up the ground on the table. In fact, the Blaugrana could step ahead of them even if Real Madrid do win this weekend, as the Catalans have a game in hand.

Nevertheless, Zinedine Zidane’s men will take hope from the fact that Valencia have not looked deadly this season and pretty much struggling to re-establish themselves as one of the giants of Spanish football. They are dawdling at the wrong end of the league table heading into this game, with just 24 points on the board.

Another defeat this weekend could allow four clubs to overtake Los Che – a result that could see them get involved in the relegation scrap.

However, with Real Madrid having to keep one eye on their important match-up against Atalanta, combined with their shock 4-1 defeat in the reverse fixture, and Valencia will hope to churn out yet another surprise result that should significantly boost their confidence during the second half of the campaign.

Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at these two sides ahead of this crucial encounter in La Liga this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Manchester calling? (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Varane’s presence will be important in the absence of Ramos. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)Valen

Zinedine Zidane is missing a bunch of players heading into this game including Sergio Ramos, Federico Valverde, Eden Hazard and Eder Militao among many others. The absence of two key central defenders, in particular, should force Los Blancos to once again rely on the defensive combination of Nacho Fernandez and Raphael Varane.

The two have a clear distinction in regards to their style of play, with the latter set to play a key role in the build-up. It is also imperative that Varane leads the defence well in the absence of Ramos, with Real Madrid hoping to groom the Frenchman into a future captain.

Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez have both returned to training and could be in contention whereas Ferland Mendy is the only option on the opposite flank thanks to the absence of Marcelo. It will be interesting to see whether this depleted Real Madrid defence can weather the storm from Valencia, who do have a strong offensive unit.

The weakened defensive unit will undoubtedly require more cover from the holding midfielder in Casemiro. Zidane may even opt to assign him as an auxiliary defender, with the Brazilian’s primary objective being to mop up loose balls and disrupt the opposition’s flow in the middle of the park.

On a bright note, Real Madrid have been boosted by the return of Toni Kroos from suspension. The German international is guaranteed to be recalled to the starting eleven.

He is set to operate alongside Luka Modric in the slightly advanced midfield positions, hoping to offer ideas and creativity in the final third. Modric, in particular, will play a key role in threading those trademark through balls that could be key on the counter.

Zidane has very limited options in the offensive department, which means the Frenchman should persist with the attacking trifecta of Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio, with Mariano Diaz and Marvin Park providing an alternative.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Nacho, Varane, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius Kr.

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Valencia

Unlike Real Madrid, Valencia head coach Javi Gracia won’t have to deal with too many injury-related absentees, with Mouctar Diakhaby and Jasper Cillessen appearing to be the only ones set to miss out this weekend.

A host of Spanish clubs have predominantly used a 4-4-2 formation this season and Valencia are no exceptions. The visitors will be looking to use the narrow pockets of space the system offers to the opposition thanks to the compactness of the setup.

The two central midfielders in Uros Racic and Carlos Soler could, thus, operate close to each other, forming the second line of press alongside the wide players in Goncalo Guedes and Daniel Wass.

They are expected to feature rather deep during defensive phases, though the wide midfield duo could play a crucial role in helping Valencia unleash counter-attacks as they look to feed the two central strikers in Manu Vallejo and Maxi Gomez.

Defensively, the onus will be on Gabriel Paulista to marshal the four-man backline alongside Ferro at the heart of the Valencia defence. Full-backs Thierry Correia and Jose Gaya are set to have more attacking roles but could form a deep defensive line with the central defenders when Real Madrid dominate possession.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Domenech; Correira, Gabriel, Ferro, Gaya; Wass, Racic, Soler, Guedes; Vallejo, Gomez

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Key Stats

  • Valencia are looking to complete a league double over Real Madrid for the first time since 1967/68 season, after winning 4-1 in the reverse fixture this term.
  • Real Madrid have avoided defeat in their last 12 home La Liga games against Valencia, since a 2-3 loss in March 2008 and they have scored at least two goals in nine of them.
  • Valencia have failed to win any of their last nine away league games against Madrilean sides, losing their last four, their longest winless run away from home against such opposition in the top-flight.
  • Real Madrid have won their last two games, as many as their previous seven in all competitions.
  • Valencia have just won two of their last 12 La Liga games. They have exactly one goal in each of their last seven games in the competition.

Player to Watch

Raphael Varane

Real Madrid's French defender Raphael Varane smiles during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid and Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on December 1, 2018. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP) (Photo credit should read OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP/Getty Images)

Set to marshal the Real Madrid backline this weekend. (Photo by Oscar del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images)

As mentioned earlier, Raphael Varane could be a vital cog in the Real Madrid defence in the continued absence of Sergio Ramos. Following a difficult start to 2021, the onus is on the Frenchman to once again step up his game and help his team see through yet another victory that could be extremely important in their hopes of defending the league title this season.

From a tactical perspective, Varane’s ability to read the game and sense danger is set to play a key role in neutralising the threat of the Valencia side who are expected to play on the counter. It essentially means that we may see the former Lens prodigy to come out of his line to intercept passes, sporting a more aggressive approach than usual.

Varane’s overall solidity and his understanding with Fernandez at the heart of the four-man Real Madrid backline could go a long way in dictating the fate of Los Blancos in this fixture.

Prediction

Real Madrid 2-0 Valencia

Real Madrid will keep in mind, their shock humiliation in the reverse fixture. But, a lot has happened since, with Valencia, in particular, barely looking like a shadow of their former self. They have secured just two wins in their last 12 matches and are steadily moving down the pecking order in the league table.

It is, therefore, hard to imagine them springing a surprise yet again this weekend. Although they could undeniably make things difficult for Real Madrid, the defending champions are still favourites to seal this tie, perhaps with a convincing 2-0 margin.

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