Real Madrid host Rayo Vallecano in a fixture of little significance to them, but of massive importance for the visitors.
After a promising start to 2019, Vallecano’s season came crumbling down following a woeful run that began in February. Winning just one game ever since, the minnows find themselves in the last position as they enter matchday 35.
A defeat on Sunday coupled with other results going against them could relegate Vallecano.
Madrid will be playing for pride, with players incentivised to impress manager Zinedine Zidane ahead of the next season.
We take a look at some of the talking points ahead of game.
Opportunity comes knocking for Marco Asensio
From scoring screamers against Barcelona in the Spanish Supercup in 2017 to struggling to force himself into the starting line-up, Marco Asensio’s career has clearly hit a speed-bump.
The winger was not a regular under Julen Lopetegui or Santiago Solari and has started just 19 games this season. Given Asensio’s quality and the lack of options Madrid found themselves in during such a poor season, one could assume that the Spaniard should probably have played more.
Vinicius Junior impressed and earned a starter’s spot under Solari and pushed Asensio further down the pecking order.
With Bale looking out of sorts and Karim Benzema – the only threat in Madrid’s front-line – side-lined due to injury, the 23-year-old is bound to start against Vallecano.
The versatile winger can play as a number 10 too and offers a lot of options in the final third – something Madrid desperately need.
With Eden Hazard topping Madrid’s summer shopping list, Asensio must arrest his poor form and bring out his best against Vallecano.
Zizou has his pick, Navas it is
In a span of about two months, Thibaut Courtois won the golden glove at the World Cup and earned a move to Madrid. In the same time, Keylor Navas went from a Champions League winner to a second choice keeper.
However, the Belgian’s debut season for Los Blancos has been dismal. It did not help that injuries have made it harder for the former Chelsea custodian to truly establish himself at the club. The return of Zidane as a manager has further faced him with challenges.
Zidane’s undying faith in the veteran keeper is no secret. It’s been over a month and a half since Courtois started for Madrid, with Navas slowly regaining his place between the sticks.
An argument can be made about how the former has been injured for most parts, but it’s unlikely that the Madrid boss will be changing his preference. Zidane chose Navas over a fully fit Courtois against Getafe and it worked like a charm, much to the delight of the Costa Rican.
Navas faced as much as nine shots – five of which were on target – and dealt with them very well en route to a clean-sheet. Jorge Molina and Jaime Mata – the best attacking duo among dark horses – were kept at bay by the 32-year-old.
Is Navas set to cement his spot as the first choice custodian?
Raphael Varane on red alert
The duo of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane was hailed as arguably the best pairing at centre-back in Europe after they held their own in the Champions League. Two months later, the Frenchman paired with Samuel Umtiti to help France secure the World Cup. Yet again, he was the talk of the town.
Unfortunately for the 26-year-old, his form took a massive dip this season. Every Madrid player has experienced a rough patch but it’s always more obvious for defenders and goalkeepers.
While Ramos has struggled too, the extent of decline pales in comparison to that of Varane. The Frenchman has been erroneous and has looked short of his usual, brilliant self. He has failed to lead the defence whenever Ramos was not on the field due to injuries or suspensions.
Varane clearly lacked competition for his spot in the starting line-up due to lack of squad depth. But Eder Militao’s arrival this summer could change everything.
The Porto defender who has signed for the Spanish giants has shown in the Champions League that he has the potential to start for a top European club. Varane now has something to play for, as he looks to right his wrongs and return to his former glory.
“I have a clear idea what I want to do,” Zidane told reporters. “The profiles and everything. I do not have every name, but I have clear idea what I want to achieve next year and we are working on it.
“Our intention is to have more strength in attack.”
Since returning to manage Real in March, Zidane has voiced his admiration for stars such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba at Manchester United.
This week another star linked to Real, Neymar, gave an interview in his native Brazil in which the Paris Saint-Germain star said he dreamed of playing with Hazard.
Zidane was asked if playing for Real was a dream come true.
“Yes, for many players,” he replied. “They know that this club is important and many want to play here one day. It’s natural.”
Would Neymar and Eden Hazard work well together? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/unUcyYLFax— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 27, 2019
The theme continued when Zidane was asked if Hazard and Gareth Bale would be compatible.
“All good players are compatible,” he said, going on to refer to Youri Djorkaeff, a team-mate when France won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. “They said I was not compatible with Djorkaeff. What nonsense.”
As for Bale, who is expected to leave in the summer, “at the end of the season you will see what we are going to do. I’m sure he’ll keep playing until the end of the season”.
Real visit bottom side Rayo Vallecano on Sunday practically assured of Champions League football despite a deeply disappointing season.
The European champions are third in La Liga with four games to go, six points behind second-place Atletico Madrid and 10 clear of Getafe and Sevilla in fourth and fifth.
Zinedine Zidane felt Real Madrid were worthy of more than just a point from their game against Getafe.
Zidane’s side created the better chances during the goalless draw at Coliseum Alfonso Perez, which leaves Madrid six points behind city rivals Atletico in the race to finish second behind champions-elect Barcelona.
Jose Bordalas’ side extended their unbeaten run to five matches and have now lost only one of their last 13 La Liga games as they reclaimed fourth spot.
“We played well and deserved a lot more. We had chances to score a goal, especially in the first half. I am happy with the way we played, our intent and concentration, but not the result,” Zidane told the club’s official website.
“If Getafe are fourth there is a reason behind it. They are doing well. They have 55 points and there are just four games to go. You have to congratulate them and hope they finish as high as possible in the league.”
Much of what was good about Madrid on Thursday night involved Brahim Diaz and Zidane had praise for the talented teenager.
“I am happy with his progress, he had a great game,” said the Madrid boss. “He likes to play and I love fearless players, he is two-footed and quick.
“He had a good game but had to come off due to cramp. He played well and I am happy, I love how he plays. Let’s see what happens next year. The key thing is what happened today.”
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