Real Madrid will be looking to get back to winning ways when they host Levante at Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday
The end of the fortnight-long break means that club football is back this weekend. In La Liga, Real Madrid return to action at home against Levante on Saturday, looking to bounce back to winning ways and keep pace with arch rivals Barcelona.
Zinedine Zidane’s men are yet to be beaten after two games, but have fallen two points behind their bitter rivals, who haven’t dropped a point thus far. Los Blancos, though, faced disappointment in their previous fixture after only managing to hold visitors Valencia to a late 2-2 draw.
The visitors, too, have made an unbeaten start to the season, and have as many points as their hosts on Saturday. Juan Ramon Lopez Muniz’s men are also coming into this match on the back of a draw, though, with a late goal from Ivan Alvarez earning them a solitary point.
The two sides last met in the 2015-16 season, when Real Madrid beat their visitors 3-0, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing a starring role for his side. With Levante making a return to La Liga this season, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Saturday’s encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Zinedine Zidane has a few injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Levante. In fact, the Real Madrid boss could have as many as five first-team players missing from his matchday squad due to several short-term fitness issues.
French defender Raphael Varane is a certain absentee as he continues to recover from an abductor injury that he picked up in Los Blancos’ season opener against Deportivo La Coruna. Fellow centre-back Jesus Vallejo has returned to training after recovering from a knock. But his availability is still a doubt.
Also in doubt regarding their availability are Dani Ceballos, Keylor Navas and Casemiro. While Ceballos is doubtful due to a neck sprain sustained in an under-21 international match for Spain, Navas and Casemiro have Zidane sweating over their fitness after the duo missed training on Thursday.
Should they fail to pass the fitness test, Kiko Casilla and Mateo Kovacic are likely to get the nod for the starting eleven. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo serves the penultimate game of his five-match ban, but Sergio Ramos is available for selection after serving his suspension in the match against Valencia.
Zidane, though, has a major selection issue on his hands, with the Champions League tie against APOEL to look forward to as well. Thus, one of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Isco is likely to start on the bench to remain in peak condition for the midweek match.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2 Diamond): Casilla; Carvajal, Ramos, Nacho, Marcelo; Modric, Kovacic, Kroos, Isco; Asensio, Benzema
Unlike his counterpart in the Real Madrid dugout, Juan Ramon Lopez Muniz is only likely to have a couple of players missing from his matchday squad due to suspension or fitness issues.
Winger Jose Luis Morales is suspended after being sent off in the match against Deportivo. The Spaniard is likely to be replaced in the starting eleven by Ivan Alvarez, whose goal had earned Levante a valuable point in their previous game.
Roger Marti is the second certain absentee from Muniz’s matchday squad, with the Spanish striker recovering from a long-term cruciate ligament injury. However, his absence is unlikely to hurt the visitors much, with Alexandria Alegria Moreno going strong as the focal point of their attack
Meanwhile, Enis Bardhi is a slight doubt after returning from international duty with Macedonia on Thursday. He is likely to be available for selection though. As should Ivory Coast midfielder Cheick Doukoure, who was also due to be back for training on Thursday.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Raul; Ivan Lopez, Postigo, Chema, Tono; Lerma, Campana; Jason, Bardhi, Ivan Alvarez; Alegria Moreno
Real Madrid have lost only one of their last 11 games in La Liga against Levante at home – a 0-1 results in February 2007.
Levante have not succeeded in finding the back of the net in their last visits to Santiago Bernabeu in La Liga, with their last goal coming in April 2013 from the boots of Michel.
Real Madrid have scored in their last 70 games in all competitions – a record for being the longest ever streak in the top five European leagues.
Karim Benzema has had the most shots of any La Liga player without managing to score this season (eight).
Keylor Navas had a better save percentage for Levante (80.24%) than he does for Real Madrid (74.9%).
Player To Watch
The last twelve months have been a topsy turvy ride as a Real Madrid player for Karim Benzema. While the Frenchman still enjoys the faith of his manager Zinedine Zidane as the first-choice strikers, his performances for large parts of the last season or so have not warranted the selection.
His first couple of outings this season have been more of the same as the 2016-17 season as Benzema has looked a pale shadow of the clinical striker who became one of the biggest prolific powerhouses in Spain.
The French striker has made some baffling errors thanks to some questionable finishing, and with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo two options for Zidane to install as a striker now, Benzema needs to pull up his socks to resurrect what looks like a stuttering Real Madrid career.
Real Madrid 2-0 Levante
The start to the 2016-17 season has hardly been ideal for Zinedine Zidane and his charges, with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Valencia providing an early season dampener. But, the result seems to be more of a blip rather than a sign of things to come, considering the individual form of some of his key players.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a major absentee for Real Madrid, but in Marco Asensio, Isco and Toni Kroos, the Frenchman has enough firepower to topple the newly-promoted visitors. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts a 2-0 win for the hosts.