Real Madrid are sweating on the availability of rising star Vinicius ahead of Sunday’s trip to Real Betis with coach Santiago Solari already without a host of players.
The 18-year-old Brazilian has impressed for the European champions when given the chance this season and scored Real’s final goal in their 3-0 Copa del Rey win over Leganes in midweek.
However, the winger is struggling with illness and is a doubt for the trip to Seville, where Real are without the likes of Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, Thibaut Courtois, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez through injury or suspension.
Solari admits he does not know if Vinicius will be fit to play, but the Madrid boss was also quick to point out that he still has plenty talent at his disposal either way.
Solari told a press conference as reported by the club’s website: “We don’t know whether he’ll be involved tomorrow, we need to wait a bit before announcing the squad list, but we’ll know either way during the course of the day.
“Real Madrid’s strength lies in the group, the squad is made up of 24 players.
“We’ll all be going there looking for the win, as we always do. We’ve had a lot of issues, we’ve got a number of players out injured, but we’ll be trying to get them back as soon as possible.”
One player who is available, but who has found starts hard to come by, is Spain international Isco.
The club’s spate of injuries, especially among attacking players, could have opened the door for the 26-year-old playmaker, but Solari was giving little away.
“Isco is doing fine, just like all of the players who are training at the moment,” he said.
“We’ll have to see who plays tomorrow, the squad list hasn’t been completely decided on yet.
“I’ve got 24 players and I’d love for all of them to be able to play more.”
A 2-2 draw at Villarreal and last weekend’s 2-0 home defeat to Real Sociedad to start 2019 has left Madrid in fifth place and 10 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.
Sunday’s opponents Betis, meanwhile, are four points behind Madrid in sixth spot, having recorded the exact same sequence of results (WLWWWDL) over the last seven league games as Solari’s men.
While Madrid were losing to Sociedad last weekend, Betis were slumping to a shock 2-1 defeat at rock-bottom Huesca, who had only won once previously in LaLiga this term.
Betis, who lost this fixture 5-3 last season, will be desperate to make amends for that upset but boss Quique Setien knows it will not be easy against Madrid, regardless of their injury problems.
He said in AS: “We always expect the best Madrid, like we did the best Huesca.
“I know there are players who can’t play for Madrid because of injuries, that happens to all of us. I don’t know how much that will influence things.
“We’re going to go into the game with the same principles as always – being brave, pressing high up, and with as much energy as possible, without thinking too much about the fact it is Madrid who we are up against.”
Former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has not ruled out coaching Los Blancos for a second stint and considers that fact that he is constantly linked with them as a huge honour.
However, the Portuguese did admit that there are no talks between the two parties at the moment.
Mourinho had previously coached Madrid from 2010-2013 and won them the league in 2012.
Recently, he was sacked by Manchester United and is without a club ever since.
“Today I have no intention of returning to Portugal,” Mourinho told Correio da Manha TV, following links to the Lisbon giants Benfica.
“Benfica aren’t an option for me today. [Returning to Madrid or Inter would be] a huge honour, but I’m talking to you and no-one else right now.
“When a Coach or player returns to a club, it means they did something positive. That’s how I felt when I went back to Chelsea.
“When a professional returns or is invited to return to a club, it’s a great honour. If you’re asked back, it’s because they know your worth.
“Now I have the right to relax, wait, have time to critique myself and analyse everything I’ve gone through in the last few years with calmness, to be able to think and prepare for the next phase of my career.”
Real Madrid’s troubled season faces a fresh challenge on Sunday night with a challenging trip to face sixth-placed Real Betis, who will be determined to boost their challenge for the top four with a victory.
Visiting boss Santiago Solari is facing a long list of absentees, and confidence is fragile following last weekend’s shock 2-0 home loss against lowly Real Sociedad.
Madrid did at least earn the boost of a 3-0 midweek cup win over Leganes, and they will be hoping to use that victory as a catalyst to reignite their season – but dangerous Betis will not make it easy.
Let’s take a look at the three key storylines ahead of the contest.
MADRID IN BATTLE FOR TOP FOUR?
After being crowned kings of Europe on four occasions in the last five years, it’s almost unthinkable that Real Madrid will fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League. But that is the prospect facing Los Blancos as their eventful campaign lurches from one setback to another.
La Liga has reached its midway point with the Bernabeu giants fifth in the table, just behind Alaves and a handful of points ahead of a batch of teams with top four aspirations. Their closest challengers are Sunday’s opponents Betis, who can narrow the gap on Solari’s men to just one point with victory at the Benito Villamarin.
Realistically, it’s unlikely that Alaves will be able to maintain their unexpectedly strong form throughout the entire campaign, especially following the loss of star midfielder Ibai Gomez to Athletic Bilbao. And the fact that Madrid are still close to the top four despite their disastrous season so far means they only need a slight improvement to return to the Champions League places.
But another defeat this weekend would tighten up the race considerably, leaving no doubt that Madrid are locked in a battle to avoid being dumped into the Europa League next season.
ISCO’S TIME TO SHINE?
The biggest individual loser in Madrid’s turbulent campaign has been Isco, who has been relegated from an undroppable star turn during his team’s Liga and European double 18 months to an unused afterthought under Solari.
The new coach has only given Isco two starts, and both of those were only in dead rubber cup ties against Melilla and CSKA Moscow. Solari’s repeated refusal to use the Spain international has made it plain that he simply does not want to pick Isco, although whether that is for sporting or political reasons is impossible to say.
On this occasion, though, a long list of absentees in the midfield and forward positions is making it almost impossible for Solari to avoid starting the former Malaga man: Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Mariano Diaz, Toni Kroos and Marcos Llorente are all injured, Lucas Vazquez is suspended and Brazilian starlet Vinicius Junior is a big doubt through illness.
Given those circumstances, Solari would have to come up with some very creative thinking to avoid playing Isco – such as repositioning Marcelo as a midfielder – and he will now surely receive his long-awaited opportunity to prove a point to the new manager. And if he takes that chance by producing a match-winning performance, Isco could yet have a future at Real Madrid.
BETIS AIM TO PROVE CREDENTIALS
Hosts Betis have sparkled at times this season, capable of producing exciting and free-flowing football which has delivered impressive results such as November’s 4-3 win at Barcelona, further enhancing the reputation of highly regarded coach Quique Setien.
However, they are also highly inconsistent and come into the game after a dip of form, failing to beat Eibar, Huesca or Real Sociedad in any of their last three encounters.
With their adherence to a clearly defined system, based around short passing and high pressing, Betis can be seen as an antithesis to Madrid’s reliance upon individual moments of brilliance rather than a coherent collective approach.
So this game is a real clash of styles and Betis will certainly not back down from their usual style of attempting to impose themselves upon the opposition high up the pitch. That could open up plenty of opportunities for Madrid to exploit on the counter-attack so it could be an exciting game with lots of chances at both ends.