Real Madrid’s La Liga title defence will be on the line when they take on Villarreal in the final matchday of the 2020/21 La Liga on Saturday evening.

The curtains will finally fall on what has been one of the most closely contested title races in the recent history of La Liga on Saturday. Current holders Real Madrid will need to pick up all three points when they face off against Villarreal at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Saturday, while hoping that leaders Atletico Madrid drop points against Real Valladolid as the battle for the title goes down to the wire.

Real Madrid, despite not having lost any of their last 17 games in La Liga, haven’t been able to capitalise on slip-ups from their neighbours, with a run of three draws in their last seven games meaning that they are two points behind Atleti in the table. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have picked up back-to-back wins against Granada and Athletic Bilbao and will be pumped up to grab all three points on Saturday.

Villarreal, meanwhile, are also in desperate need for a win as they eye for a top-six finish. Currently seventh, Unai Emery’s side are a point below Real Sociedad in fifth and behind sixth-place Real Betis only on head-to-head record. The Yellow Submarine are in a good nick heading into the game, having picked back-to-back victories over Real Valladolid and Sevilla and will try to do everything possible in their hands to finish sixth or higher.

The reverse fixture, played in November last year, had ended in a 1-1 draw with Gerard Moreno cancelling out Mariano Diaz’s early goal. Ahead of their latest encounter, which has so much riding on it, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Real Madrid have been handed a twin injury boost as key defenders Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos have recovered in time to be fit and available for the final game of the season. However, Eden Hazard misses out of the squad picked by manager Zinedine Zidane with a fresh fitness issue. Lucas Vazquez, Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy are out injured while Toni Kroos misses out due to coronavirus.

The hosts are expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation on Saturday with Thibaut Courtois being a certain starter between the sticks. In the full-back slots, Alvaro Odriozola and youngster Miguel Gutierrez have done well in the past couple of matches. However, the return of Ramos and Varane makes it tricky for Zidane given as Nacho and Eder Militao have been in undroppable form as well.

So, there could be the possibility that all four feature in the backline for Real Madrid with Militao and Nacho slotting in as the full-backs flanking Varane and Ramos. Such a move would also aid in limiting Villarreal’s threat from the wide areas as well. Casemiro will be the holding midfielder for the hosts and will be tasked with cutting out the opposition’s attacks with support coming from Federico Valverde.

Luka Modric, who has impressed heavily in the last couple of games against Granada and Athletic Bilbao, will take up the third slot in the middle of the park and look to provide the creative essence for Real Madrid going forward. Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Junior ought to be the two wingers, who will need to do much better with their end product to supply chances for lone striker and star man Karim Benzema.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Militao, Varane, Ramos, Nacho; Modric, Casemiro, Valverde; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius

Villarreal

Villarreal, meanwhile, are set to be without the services of midfielder Vicente Iborra while speedy winger Samuel Chukwueze is also expected to miss out with injury. There is some good news though as Juan Foyth has recovered from his hamstring issue and trained with the team, meaning he could be in contention for the trip to the capital.

Unai Emery will set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation on Saturday evening with Sergio Asenjo manning the goal. With Foyth back available, he could get the nod at right-back, although Mario Gaspar is also an option for the manager. Former Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol and Pau Torres, a transfer target for Los Blancos, will form the centre-back pairing with Alfonso Pedraza lining up at left-back.

Francis Coquelin, who only featured from the bench last time out, ought to start on Saturday in midfield, where he will be tasked with keeping a lid on the influence of Luka Modric. He will be partnered by Dani Parejo, who will try and create openings for his attacking teammates. Manu Trigueros, having played in central midfield last time out, ought to move out to the right wing in Chukwueze’s absence while Moi Gomez slots in on the left.

Gerard Moreno is a certain starter in one of the two slots at the top. The second spot will be a toss-up between Paco Alcacer and Carlos Bacca, with the latter likely to get the nod after his hat-trick against Sevilla in the last game.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Asenjo; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Trigueros, Parejo, Coquelin, Gomez; Bacca, Moreno

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have not lost any of their last 17 matches in La Liga (W12 D5).
  • Villarreal have lost 70% of their away games against Real Madrid in La Liga (P20 W1 D5 L14).
  • Real Madrid have won only two of their last seven meetings with Villarreal in the Spanish top-flight (D4 L1), with both of those coming at home.
  • Villarreal have won each of their last two league games and have kept a clean sheet each time. The last time they won three in a row without conceding was in June 2020.
  • Real Madrid have scored at least two goals in five of their last six home matches in La Liga.

Player to Watch

Karim Benzema

The top guy for Real Madrid. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

The top guy for Real Madrid. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

The go-to man for Real Madrid for the past three years, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of Karim Benzema yet again as the Merengues look to pick up all three points on Saturday and hope for a helping and from Real Valladolid against Atletico Madrid. The 33-year-old, who earned a recall to the French national team after a six-year absence, has been Los Blancos’ best player this season with 29 goals and 8 assists in 45 games.

On Saturday, though, he will be up against a resolute Villarreal side that has kept four clean sheets in their last five games across all competitions. In 16 games against the Yellow Submarine, Benzema has a respectable tally of 7 goals and 3 assists. He will need to add to that tally at the weekend, if Real Madrid are to stand a chance of holding onto their La Liga crown.

Prediction

Real Madrid 1-0 Villarreal

It is likely to be a tense, closely-contested affair at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with both defences being quite solid of late. However, Real Madrid are likely to have the slightest of the edges given Villarreal’s poor away form against them in La Liga. The Hard Tackle, is thus, predicting a narrow win for Zinedine Zidane’s men, meaning their hopes of a title win will rest firmly on what goes down at Estadio Jose Zorrilla between Real Valladolid and Atletico Madrid.

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