Real Madrid will be aiming to strengthen their grip at the top of the La Liga standings when they play hosts to minnows Elche on Sunday.

Real Madrid will be hoping to keep their noses in front in the La Liga title race as they gear up to take on Elche CF in Matchday 22 of the 2021/22 La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend.

Real Madrid sit atop the table after 21 rounds of fixtures with a four-point lead over second-placed Sevilla. However, that could reduce to just one before Los Blancos take the field as their closest competitors play Celta Vigo on Saturday. Following their surprise 1-0 defeat to Getafe, Carlo Ancelotti’s side has recovered well, winning five in five across all competitions, building important momentum for the second half of the season.

Elche have pulled themselves four points clear of the relegation zones, drawing against Granada and defeating Espanyol and Villarreal in their last three league games. They have lost only one of their previous five matches in all competitions, although it came in their latest encounter, against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey earlier this week. However, Francisco’s side did come close to causing an upset and will back themselves to put up a fight again on Sunday.

Real Madrid beat Elche 2-1 in the reverse fixture, with goals coming from Eder Militao and Vinicius Junior. Los Blancos prevailed by the same scoreline against Los Franjiverdes in their Copa Del Rey clash earlier this week. Ahead of their third meeting of the season, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Real Madrid will once again be without the services of Dani Carvajal as he continues to recover from COVID-19. Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo and Mariano Diaz miss out due to injury problems, but Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois are back in the squad after missing the cup tie against Elche.

With the team set to get an extended break over the next week, Carlo Ancelotti will set out his strongest possible lineup on Sunday as he looks to tighten his team’s grip at the top. So Courtois ought to return to the side and will be shielded by the back four of Lucas Vazquez, Eder Militao, David Alaba and Ferland Mendy.

Toni Kroos is likely to retain his place in the lineup for Sunday’s league encounter. He will welcome his regular partners, Casemiro and Luka Modric back into the side, with Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde dropping to the bench.

Karim Benzema is set to replace Luka Jovic as the main striker for the Merengues. Support from the wide areas ought to come from the Brazilian duo of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes. Eden Hazard, who scored the winning goal in the cup tie, will remain an option from the bench, along with Gareth Bale, who is included in the squad for the game.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius

Elche

Meanwhile, Elche will have to cope with the injury-enforced absences of Pedro Bigas and Ivan Marcone. However, they will be boosted by the return of several players like Kiko Casilla, Pablo Piatti and Javier Pastore, who have recovered from coronavirus. The visitors will set up in their usual 4-4-2 formation, with two banks of four protecting goalkeeper Edgar Badia, who will return to the side after missing the cup clash.

Helibelton Palacios and Johan Mojica will be the two full-backs who will stay tucked in close to the two centre-halves, who ought to be Gonzalo Verdu and Diego Gonzalez. The movement and link-up play of the likes of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior could prove to be too tricky to handle for the visitors’ backline.

Holding the fort in the middle of the park will be Omar Mascarell and Gerard Gumbau, who will look to keep a check on their Real Madrid counterparts in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Fidel and Pere Milla will occupy the flanks and will be the primary attacking outlets when Elche do hit their hosts on the counter.

Lucas Boye, who has been in decent form this season, will pair up with Lucas Perez in the two-pronged strike force for Los Franjiverdes. The duo will hope to cause problems to the Real Madrid defence with their movement and physicality.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Badia; Palacios, Verdu, Gonzalez, Mojica; Fidel, Mascarell, Gumbau, Milla; Perez, Boye

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last 11 La Liga games against Elche (W10 D1). They have scored at least two goals in nine of those 11 contests.
  • Elche won their previous away game in La Liga, beating Espanyol 2-1, after failing to do so in their previous eight matches on the road in the competition.
  • Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last 20 home matches in La Liga (W14 D6).
  • Elche star Lucas Boye has been involved in one goal in each of his last three La Liga appearances (two goals, one assist). He has scored six goals in 16 league outings this term.
  • Real Madrid superstar Karim Benzema has been involved in at least one goal in each of his last two home La Liga appearances against Elche.

Player to Watch

Eden Hazard

The 31-year-old proved to be Real Madrid’s saviour against Elche earlier this week as they came back from a goal down to beat the minnows and advance to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. It was Eden Hazard’s first goal of what has been another disappointing, injury-riddled season. But the winger will be hoping to use that as a springboard to find some rhythm and form in the games to come.

Although he is unlikely to start on Sunday, another strong performance from the bench will boost his confidence further while also giving manager Carlo Ancelotti a selection headache. 

Prediction

Real Madrid 2-0 Elche

Elche have been putting up some solid displays of late and have done well to put some distance between themselves and the drop zone. They ran Real Madrid close in the cup tie earlier this week, which will fill them with confidence ahead of the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu.

However, Los Blancos will have key men like Karim Benzema and Luka Modric back on the field, which should firmly tilt the scales in their favour. An easy 2-0 win for the hosts should be on the cards.

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