Los Merengues resume their La Liga campaign with another big test, away against Unai Emery’s side
After an engrossing international break, attention returns to La Liga this weekend, as Real Madrid travel away to Villarreal.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the biggest matches Zinedine Zidane and his side will face between now and the end of the year, a period which will surely prove crucial in their bid to win a record-extending 35th Spanish title.
After appearing to turn their form around with the 3-1 victory away at Barcelona in October’s Clasico, Real have a point to prove once again after they were humbled 4-1 at Valencia earlier this month.
In this sense, the international break came at a bad time, denying them the chance to rebound quickly, but Los Merengues will be champing at the bit to respond strongly when they go away to Villarreal on Saturday.
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It won’t be an easy fixture, with the Yellow Submarine currently second in the top flight.
Unai Emery is busy rebuilding his reputation in Castellon following a testing spell at Arsenal, and he’s currently getting the best out of a talented group who can certainly hurt opposition defences.
The ex-Gunners boss, however, has a poor record against Real and Zidane, having lost all three matches against them—either with Sevilla or Paris Saint-Germain.
Real definitely need to improve at the back if they’re to keep a clean sheet away from home, with Villarreal’s passing game among the most refined in the league so far this season.
Last term, Los Merengues’ backline held firm to get them over the line as Barcelona threw the title away, but so far this season, it’s been an area of concern for Zidane.
It’s not too much to say that it’s imperative Real use this weekend’s Estadio de la Ceramica showdown to reaffirm their standing as title favourites and reassert themselves in the race for the championship.
Despite suffering a muscle injury during the Valencia defeat, Karim Benzema should be fit enough to be involved against Villarreal, having returned to the gym on Wednesday.
He will be a massive boost, having scored at least one goal in each of his last four games in all competitions—five in total. He hasn’t scored in five consecutive matches since April 2019, but can he replicate that impressive feat this time around.
The news is much bleaker for Fede Valverde, who suffered a broken leg against Valencia and will be out of action for several months, while Ferland Mendy could be considered at left-back if Zidane looks to reshuffle his backline after the defeat last time out.
How Mendy—or Marcelo—fares against Villarreal’s right-winger Samuel Chukwueze could be one of the defining duels of the match.
The Nigeria international has reportedly caught the eye of some of Europe’s bigger clubs in recent transfer windows—including Manchester United—and he’s previously demonstrated the potential to raise his game for the big fixtures.
It remains to be seen whether Eden Hazard and Casemiro will be available, having missed the Valencia fixture due to Covid-19, and if they play, it may give Real the advantage in the midfield battle.
Villarreal’s midfield trio—Vicente Iborra, Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo—is an area of strength, but can they keep Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Martin Odegaard at bay?
Encouragingly for Real, Villarreal are without a win in this fixture since Roberto Soldado inspired them to a triumph in the 2015-16 season, while the champions’ last three trips to the Ceramica have all resulted in 2-2 draws.
Last term, Gareth Bale was the hero, netting twice to salvage a point for Real, but Zidane will need another star man to step to the fore this time around.