Real Madrid take on Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu on Saturday in a La Liga clash which looks likely to be near the bottom of Zinedine Zidane’s list of priorities.
Though Real are still competing with city rivals Atletico Madrid for the runners up spot in the table, and Zidane’s side’s attentions will naturally be centred on the Champions League final at the end of the month.
With that being said, the league fixtures continue to come thick and fast for Madrid, and Zidane will be aware of the importance of building momentum from results in the run up to the showpiece event against Liverpool in Kiev.
Real Madrid’s preparation for the Liverpool showdown has not began in the most desirable manner for Zidane’s side in terms of results. A 2-2 draw in last weekend’s El Clasico encounter was a decent result against a Barcelona who had twice taken the lead on the night.
The midweek defeat away to Sevilla, however, may offer a more concerning insight into the direction of Los Blancos’ remaining league outings this season.
Fielding a heavily rotated side from the full strength team which Zidane sent to the field against Barcelona three days earlier, Madrid struggled for ideas and impetus against a Sevilla side who simply wanted the result more. The home team eventually ran out narrow 3-2 winners, having stormed into a 3-0 lead which tells a truer tale of the match than the final score line.
The continued rotation and resting of key players in upcoming domestic matches ahead of that all-important European final may see result in similar struggles for results in Madrid’s remaining league fixtures.
Celta Vigo, meanwhile, are suffering a poor run of form, having not won in their last nine matches. A 4-1 defeat to Villareal, two 1-1 draws with Valencia and Deportivo and an action-packed 2-2 draw with Barcelona in their last four matches have done little to add any late cheer to their season.
Currently 12th in La Liga, Juan Carlos Unzue’s side are, however, only a point behind Eibar in 10th. Securing a top half finish could end Celta Vigo’s season on a high.
With Real Madrid likely to field a heavily rotated side on Saturday and a match against a lowly Levante in their final league game of the season, Unzue’s men may fancy their chances of sneaking into the top ten.
The last time the two sides met may provide some encouragement for Celta Vigo as they head to the Spanish capital this weekend. In a closely fought encounter, the home side on that occasion took the lead just over half an hour into the match through a Daniel Wass strike.
Gareth Bale provided an emphatic response for Madrid, hitting a quick-fire brace in the space of two minutes to hand the visitors a stunning lead.
Celta Vigo were far from down and out, however, and largely contained Madrid for the rest of the match from that point, before Maxi Gomez fired a dramatic equaliser for Unzue’s side in the final ten minutes of the game to secure a 2-2 draw.
Possession was evenly shared on that occasion, with Madrid’s superior amount of shots on goal proving inconsequential to Celta Vigo on the score line. A repeat performance at the Bernabeu against an understrength Madrid side could lead to an upset at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
With an uncertainty over the strength of team that Zidane will look to field following the midweek defeat, it is unclear exactly what kind of attacking threat Madrid will pose to Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo is certainly ruled out of the match through the injury he picked up during the Clasico last weekend, whilst Karim Benzema looked out of sorts against Sevilla on Wednesday. Gareth Bale was not in the squad that night due to suspension.
What will be of clear importance for both Madrid and Celta on Saturday is the midfield battle. Real will typically seek to stamp their authority on the match by controlling the game from the middle of the Bernabeu pitch.
Jozabed and Stanislav Lobotka will likely play as Celta Vigo’s two deep midfielfers and must provide an effective shield for the back four to isolate Madrid’s attacking players, stop the likes of Mateo Kovacic from running the game from deep and prevent their team from being exposed to Madrid’s devastating potential on the counter attack.
Zidane will be without first choice right-back Dani Carvajal for Saturday’s match, with the Spaniard still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered last month. Nacho is again likely to fill in at full back.
Cristiano Ronaldo remains injured, with Madrid nervously awaiting news on his availability for the Champions League final at the end of the month. Isco, however, should be available to return on Saturday from a short term shoulder injury.
Celta Vigo will be without former Liverpool forward Iago Aspas for the trip to Madrid, as the 30-year-old continues to suffer with a hamstring injury. Defensive midfielder Nemanja Radoja and central defender Facundo Roncaglia also remain absent for Saturday’s match.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Navas/Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Hernandez/Kovacic, Casemiro, Isco/L. Vazquez, Bale, Asensio
Celta Vigo (4-2-3-1): S. Alvarez/Mallo, Gomez, Cabral, Jonny/Lobotka, Jozabed/Wass, Mendez, Sisto/Gomez
Although Celta Vigo will be encouraged by Real Madrid’s struggles against Sevilla on Wednesday with an understrength team, Zidane is likely to restore some more familiar faces to the starting lineup following a longer period of rest after the energetic El Clasico last weekend.
The French manager will be keen to see his side get back to winning ways and regain a positive momentum to both end Madrid’s domestic season on a high.
Celta Vigo are suffering a poor run of form, and Madrid’s midfield control and electric attacking ability on the break should prove too much for the away side.
Prediction: Real Madrid 3-0 Celta Vigo