Saturday night’s big game in Spain is all about bouncing back. And not only for Real Madrid, who are seeking a return to winning ways after missing the opportunity to set a new league record of 17 consecutive wins with Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Villarreal.
It’s also an important occasion for hosts Las Palmas, who are looking to prove their early-season form was no fluke after suffering their first loss with a 4-1 midweek drubbing at Real Sociedad.
Las Palmas were brilliant at the start of the campaign, scoring nine goals as they won their opening two games to become the league’s early pacesetters. And that was not a massive surprise, because they also finished last season strongly to turn an initial fight against relegation into an eventual comfortable mid-table finish.
The inspiration for the turnaround was manager Quique Setien, who is making up for lost time having never previously coached in the top flight until his appointment at the Canary Island club last October.
The former Racing Santander and Atletico Madrid midfielder is a graduate of the Johan Cruyff school of football, employing a fast-paced, high-intensity passing game which demands huge physical effort from his players.
That has perfectly suited the heart of Setien’s team, with Roque Mesa, Tana and Jonathan Viera forming the physically smallest midfield in La Liga but making up for their lack of stature with excellent technique and non-stop effort.
The team’s marquee summer signing Kevin Prince Boateng is suspended today, but that shouldn’t necessarily end the hosts’ hopes of upsetting Madrid because their core lies elsewhere.
The relentlessness of Las Palmas’ midfield is capable of over running any opposition, as Madrid discovered in March when they were extremely fortunate to return to the mainland with a smash and grab victory.
The match-winner on that occasion, in the last minute, was Casemiro, and his absence from Madrid’s midfield makes his team vulnerable in exactly the area where Las Palmas are strongest. Zinedine Zidane says he knows exactly how he will compensate for Casemiro’s absence on Saturday night.
It had better be good. If not, a home win would be no surprise whatsoever.
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