Real Madrid will attempt to climb into third place in La Liga by overtaking visiting Bernabeu in this weekend’s big game at the Bernabeu.
There are still plenty of doubts surrounding Los Blancos after the positivity injected by last weekend’s victory at Real Betis was immediately quashed by a midweek cup defeat at Leganes, which saw the team rely on heroics from goalkeeper Keylor Navas to only lose 1-0 on the night and advance on aggregate.
Manager Santi Solari still faces a sizeable injury list but still has room for some tough decisions – and the first of those begins our look ahead to the action.
The great goalkeeping debate
After being relegated to second choice behind summer signing Thibaut Courtois, long-serving Keylor Navas delivered a timely reminder of his shot-stopping talents with an outstanding performance in the midweek cup loss at Leganes.
The Costa Rican produced a series of top-class saves, especially in the latter stages when Leganes showed genuine intent to overturn their 3-0 first leg deficit and often looked capable of doing so.
Now, though, Courtois is available again after recovering from the hip injury which saw him miss the last two games, so Solari has a decision to make: does he ‘reward’ Navas for his great display at Leganes by immediately relegating him to the bench, or does he force Courtois to bide his time before earning a recall? The manager gave no clues in Friday’s pre-game press conference, simply stating that he is lucky to be able to call upon “the best two goalkeepers in the world.”
Many Madrid fans would side with Navas, who played a key role in his team’s Champions League successes over the last three years and never really did much to warrant being dropped in the first place. But Courtois appears to have starter status, and it would be no surprise to see him reinserted straight into the line-up.
Marcelo in Solari’s bad books?
Solari has already shown that he is prepared to take on big-name superstars by repeatedly leaving out Spain international midfielder Isco, and now he appears to be making a point to another icon of the Bernabeu: Marcelo.
The veteran left-back was surprisingly omitted from the starting line-up for last weekend’s trip to Betis, and only returned to the team at Leganes in midweek in an unfamiliar winger role as youngster Sergio Reguilon kept his place at full-back.
Marcelo’s defensive frailties are hardly a new revelation but Solari seems to have decided they are no longer worth tolerating, especially amid reports that the flamboyant Brazilian star has been deemed overweight. Marcelo’s case is further weakened by the impressive style of 22 year-old Reguilon’s performances so far this season, and he may well have done enough to keep his place – and keep Marcelo on the bench.
Solari also has to decide whether to stick with the three-man back line he implemented at Betis last week or revert to the team’s accustomed back four shape, with the latter option seeming most likely.
Have Sevilla run out of steam?
It’s not long since visiting Sevilla were starting to be regarded as genuine title contenders, but a run of one win in six games has left them ten points behind leaders Barcelona and starting to look as though their season may head into an irreversible decline.
Last weekend’s 2-0 loss at relegation-threatened Athletic Bilbao was particularly disappointing, with Pablo Machin’s men starting to look a shadow of the side who thrashed Madrid 3-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan with a vibrant display earlier in the season.
Machin may opt to attempt to reignite his team by giving a first start to newly signed former Barcelona striker Munir El Haddadi, while Dutch midfielder Quincy Promes is another option to refresh the starting eleven.
Sevilla – who will meet Barcelona in next week’s Copa del Rey quarter-final – have particularly struggled on their travels, failing to win any of their last six league trips since September, so this would be the perfect opportunity to reverse that trend and solidify their position in the top four. If not, their previously promising campaign could quickly unravel.
Three months ago, Sevilla thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 and set the snowball rolling for a crisis period in the capital. The pair lock horns again on Saturday and the winner will take the third spot in the league table.
Los Blancos have recorded 10 defeats in all competitions this season and a win against Sevilla could provide a psychological boost as they enter the business end of the season.
Once touted to challenge for the title, Sevilla are not on a good streak themselves. Pablo Machin’s side have won just one game in their last six games and are in dire need of a win to get their season back on track.
We take a look at some of the tactics the managers could employ in the crucial clash.
SEVILLA – SOAK IN THE PRESSURE AND CHOOSE YOUR MOMENTS
When the two teams faced each other in the short-lived Julen Lopetegui era, Sevilla were allowed to dictate terms in midfield due to a timid approach by Madrid.
However, Santiago Solari’s Madrid like to press, counter-press and get into a commanding position by half-time. Of course, Machin could opt to fight fire with fire and attack from the word go.
A rather pragmatic approach would be to soak in the early pressure and ensure that the defensive shape is intact and strike at the opportune moment.
Madrid are known to play a high line and a quick counter can always spell doom for Los Blancos.
Hence, Sevilla could opt for a more defensive approach and choose their moments to attack.
MADRID – DIRECT PLAY
The current Madrid side prefers stretching play and attacking from the wing rather than direct balls into the opponent’s box.
The full-backs Sergio Reguilon and Carvajal like to stretch the play wide and attack the area with crosses.
This is not something that would work against a team that plays a three-man defence and relies on the aerial dominance of their centre-backs in defending crosses. In fact, it could back-fire and lead to a Sevilla counter.
Los Blancos must hence adopt a more direct approach and hope for individual brilliance to get them the win against Sevilla.
Toni Kroos is side-lined due to injury and Luka Modric has been poor this season. An approach like this screams for a player who can thread incisive passes from advanced positions or even carry the ball into the box himself.
Sure, Vinicius Junior can dribble past the Sevilla defenders, but Isco would be Madrid’s best bet at playing from the centre. The number 10 could be vital in a game like this and if Solari opts against using the Spaniard, it could very well confirm that Isco has no future at the capital club.
SEVILLA – OCCUPY CASEMIRO
It’s no secret that Madrid are having a horrible season defensively, with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane under-performing. The defence was in total shambles in the stretch of games that did not feature Casemiro.
The Brazilian acts as a screen ahead of a fragile defence and occupying him could expose it.
The likes of Ever Banega and Franco Vasquez might have to risk it and play in an advanced position to draw Casemiro forward and let Pablo Sarabia take the initiative up front.
Given Madrid’s high line, Sevilla could also hurt them on the counter, led by Jesus Navas and Sergio Escudero.
The idea is to take Casemiro out of the equation and challenge the Madrid centre-backs in a two-on-two situation.
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari has called on his players to show “passion and motivation” to beat Sevilla and leapfrog their La Liga rivals.
A 3-0 defeat at Sevilla in September under former boss Julen Lopetegui was one of a number of poor results which leave Madrid fourth in the standings and 10 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.
Sevilla sit ahead of Solari’s side, albeit on the same number of points, and the Argentinian wants to see plenty of application from his players to exact revenge at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
“The passion and motivation is undeniable and non-negotiable in the players,” he said at his pre-match press conference.
“We’ll show that passion and motivation against Sevilla as we look to fulfil our objective, which is to continue making up ground on the teams above us.
“Winning would mean reducing the points difference and winning again after last weekend’s victory.
“In order to do that we have to put in a big performance tomorrow. More important than our opponent’s systems, is the way we do our thing, continuing with our ideas, going out and winning the game from the first minute and dominating the match at home.”
Madrid won at Real Betis in their last league outing before a midweek Copa del Rey defeat to Leganes – a 1-0 reverse still enough to see Solari’s men into the quarter-finals on aggregate.
But Solari knows Sevilla, who have lost just four times in LaLiga this season, pose a tough threat.
“Sevilla have a lot of strong points,” he added.
“They’ve been doing well since the beginning of the season. They’re good in the build-up, in the attack, pressing…we’ll have to have a great game to beat them.”
Sevilla have won just one of their last five games in all competitions and will be keen not to drop three points below Madrid.
Head coach Pablo Machin believes heading into such a big game could be the perfect anecdote for the recent wobble.
‘We have a really tough game ahead of us,” he said.
“There’s no better place to end this slightly negative run we’re having than in the Bernabeu.”