Unless you have just arrived on earth from some alien planet, you probably already know that (gasp!) Cristiano Ronaldo will not be playing for Real Madrid against Villarreal tomorrow. His suspension, appeal, Madrid's indignation, etc. has dominated the news, so much so that you might be forgiven for wondering who actually WILL play tomorrow.
Villarreal: The injury list is long, with long-term absences Cani and Iñiguez joined by Uche, with a muscle injury suffered last match, Juan Carlos, who is sick, and Oliver Torres, still recovering from his separated shoulder. Mateo Musacchio is feeling better and is available, so too is Bruno Soriano after his injury. Which is a good thing, because Tomas Pina is suspended for this match.
We have called the following players for this match:
- Keepers: Asenjo and Aitor.
- Defenders: Mario, Pantic, Jokic, Jaume Costa, Dorado, Gabriel and Musacchio.
- Midfielders: Bruno, Trigueros, Edu Ramos, Aquino and Moi Gómez.
- Strikers: Giovani, Perbet, Jonathan Pereira y Joan Román.
So how will Marcelino play this one? It seems likely we'll see Gio and Perbet up front, with the other two strikers available to come off the bench. I'm expecting Bruno and Trigueros in the doble pivote with Moi and Aquino on the wings as has been usual of late, but who knows, maybe we try Jony or Juan Roman out wide, or even Jaume Costa, bringing Jokic into the back line. Sidarth thinks we should put Jokic in the back line anyway, as so many counterattacks have come down Costa's side. I can be persuaded--can Marcelino?
Real Madrid: Let's be honest, Cristiano may be the Ballon d'Or winner, but it's not as if Real Madrid can't survive without him. Jése Rodriguez played for RM Castilla against us in 2012-13, and scored in both matches, including the infamous 5-0 win. Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale--you've heard of him?, Angel Di Maria, Isco, Luka Modric.....I think they can field a pretty strong lineup!
Their defense should be better than when we played them in September, too, with Marcelo available. Sure, they may make some rotations with a midweek cup game coming up, but then they won the first leg pretty handily.
When we drew 2-2 in September, Aquino and Cani both had great games; Nacho was unable to shut the Mexican down, and Cani was supreme. With the latter out, and Nacho surely replaced by Marcelo, it will be much tougher for us in midfield this time. But, Madrid, unlike Barcelona, will give you chances to score--they just figure they can create so many more it won't matter.
Insights from Managing Madrid's Lucas Navarrete:
We contacted Lucas, of SBNation's excellent blog Managing Madrid, and asked him to give some thoughts on Madrid's performance of late and their possible lineup. Here's what he said:
Allen: So…assuming no CR7, what is the lineup likely to be, given the need for rotations before the Copa second leg and any injuries?
Lucas: I would personally try not to make rotations now that we managed to get a very comfortable result against Atletico. But consider that both Carvajal and Marcelo will surely start since they are Carlo's options for the Liga BBVA. Upfront, nothing should change much. Bale on the right and Jese replacing CR7. Varane might also start again after a couple of months, but again, Ramos is one yellow card away from being suspended for the Copa Final, so Ancelotti might rotate him in the Calderon game and not against Villarreal.
Allen: And after today (both your performance and that of Barca and Atleti), how do you see the league shaping up? Seems to me as though you guys are looking a lot better than you did when we played early on.
Lucas: I'm not sure. This Real Madrid just played its very first convincing game against tough opposition. If that great performance against Atletico starts to be a trend, we are definitely in good shape. But I'm a bit afraid of how the players will reach April/May, especially Modric, Benzema and Pepe&Ramos. They are not having a break.
Allen: We're hoping Bruno is able to go; we know Cani is out. If Bruno can't, we are either going to have to play young Edu Ramos in the double pivote or abandon it altogether. Either way, midfield is going to be a problem for us, don't you think?
Lucas: Bruno is a great midfielder. If he's not available, you'll have a hard time against the playmakers, now that Di Maria has added another option on that midfield. To be honest, I think that this will be a manageable game for Real if the defenders stop your counters like they did against Atletico.
So....predictions. As Robin Harris pointed out this morning we won't get any help from the arbiter chosen to referee this match, and to be honest without Cani, and playing in the Bernabeu, we shouldn't expect to get anything from this match. But, if we can play with some of the skill and intensity we showed a couple of years ago (we lost 4-2, but gave an excellent account of ourselves) and if we can get a few breaks, who knows--maybe we can do something big at the Bernabéu!
Sidarth and I both predicted Real Madrid 3 Villarreal 1, but we hope for better. Endavant!!