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.
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