The major team news is that Victor Ruiz is suspended, and Roger Martinez is staying back at the ranch to work on his fitness. Evidently Calleja feels the training regimen in China isn’t up to Villarreal standards—no surprise there. And in any case, I would play Unal in this match anyhow, as there will be a lot of counterattacking going on. He should find more space than he did against Léganes.
Real Madrid: This has not been the sort of season Zidane’s men expected; they are fourth in the table, sixteen points adrift of Barcelona (with a game in hand, for what that’s worth). If it seems odd to hear Madrid fans giving up on the league, it’s also odd to see they’ve only scored 32 times in 17 matches. That’s still good for joint third in the league, but it’s way down on their usual. You have to go way back to the 2008-2009 season to find the last time Real scored less than 100 goals (83 that season).
It will also be odd to see a Real Madrid squad without Sergio Ramos in it; he’s out with a muscle strain, while Karim Benzema is missing as well with a hamstring pull. Madrid still have Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, so don’t feel too sorry for them!
Besides, the strength of this team is in midfield: Casemiro, Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco....it’ll be a real battle there. Dani Carvajal returns after suspension in the back line.
This is really a must-win game for Madrid. They are the only one of the top six teams in the table playing at home, so can’t afford to drop points at the Bernabeu. Our all time record in the Bernabeu is amazingly dreadful, even considering Madrid’s strength—no wins, 5 draws and 17 losses. However, two of those draws have come in the last three years.
Villarreal: Here is the squad call:
- 1. Sergio Asenjo, 25. Barbosa.
- 2. Mario Gaspar, 3. Álvaro, 5. A. Marín, 11. Jaume Costa, 22. Rukavina, 23. Bonera, 30. Pau.
- 7. Cheryshev, 8. P. Fornals, 10. S. Castillejo, 14 Trigueros, 16 Rodrigo, 26 Ramiro, 28 Raba.
- 9. Bacca, 15. Enes Ünal.
Obviously Asenjo starts; who partners Alvaro—Pau, or Bonera? Or do we do something strange like put Mario Gaspar at CB?
Midfield I feel this is a game for Castillejo along with Rodri/Trigueros/Fornals. It’s likely to be an up and down match, and Casti can dribble around people. Obviously if we had Bakambu we’d feel better about this one; Bacca can be great but can also drift out of matches, and Unal is only 20. Still, this type of game might be better for him than many, since he’s likely to find some room to roam.
Javi Calleja pointed out the obvious—we will get chances to score against Real Madrid (especially on the counterattack), so the key is being able to convert those chances. On the other end, Asenjo needs to come up big, and we can’t allow free kicks in dangerous positions the way we so often do.
Prediction: I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a bottle of champagne in the fridge just waiting for when we beat Real Madrid or Barcelona. I figure odds are it stays in the fridge, but a draw is certainly possible. I see four goals in this one; least likely is 3-1 Villarreal, more likely to be 2-2, also possible to be 3-1 Real. There you have it.
The match is rather early (7:15 AM here in California), so make sure you’re ready. ENDAVANT VILLARREAL!!