Real Madrid host newly promoted Levante at the Bernabéu as LaLiga returns after the international break with Zinedine Zidane’s side currently fifth in the table after being held to a 2-2 draw in their last match by Valencia.
Levante sit level on points with Saturday’s opponents on the back of a victory over Villarreal and a draw against Depor, a statement of intent from José Ramon López Muñiz’s side as they seek to consolidate again in the top flight after a brief return to the second tier.
The visitors have been attack-minded in their opening two games, racking up 28 shots in total to Madrid’s 30, but may err on the side of caution when faced with Zidane’s array of offensive armament.
After fielding a makeshift defence against Valencia ,
Zidane welcomed back Raphael Varane and Jesús Vallejo to training this week and both central defenders completed Friday’s preparatory session without any issues.
That should allow Zidane to field something approaching his favoured starting 11 with either Isco or Marco Asensio deputizing for the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo , or possibly even both getting the nod with Gareth Bale the player to miss out after the recent form of both the Spain internationals has placed the Welshman’s role in Zidane’s side under renewed scrutiny.
Real have never lost a game immediately after an international break under Zidane, the Frenchman seemingly having inoculated his team against the so-called Fifa virus. However, Keylor Navas, who was the last player to return to Valdebebas after representing Costa Rica in the World Cup qualifiers , is likely to be given the afternoon off with Kiko Casilla strapping on his gloves for a first competitive appearance of the season.
Marcelo may also be rested after his odyssey with the Brazil national team, handing Theo Hernández the chance to impress in a first start at the Bernabéu. Zidane might also choose to ease Varane back in after an attempt to force the issue last season ended 10 minutes into the France international’s comeback game, with Nacho a solid deputy in the heart of defence.
Casemiro is also nursing a knock so Mateo Kovacic, who has been in impressive form so far this season, may come in to the pump room.
Levante have not enjoyed this fixture a great deal in recent years and have not got the better of Real Madrid since a 1-0 victory in the Ciutat de Valencia in 2011-12. Since then, Madrid have claimed three points on every occasion the sides have met and have won the last nine games against The Frogs by an aggregate score line of 30-7.
Although the departures of Víctor Camarasa and Deyverson were a huge blow to a side with a budget dwarfed by that of their opponents on Saturday, Muñiz has been wily in the market. The addition of Cheik Doukouré from Metz looks to be a fine piece of business with the defensive midfielder adding plenty of steel to the middle line while the Levante boss may have unearthed a gem in 22-year-old attacking midfielder Enis Bardhi, who was snapped up from Ujpest FC for 1.35 million euros and has already drawn comparisons to David Beckham for his dead ball skills.
Certainly, Levante will not try to be too expansive in the Bernabéu and will look to hit Real on the break, get balls into the area for Álex Alegría to attack while looking to earn as many free-kicks in Bardhi’s range as possible.
Zidane won’t be taking Levante lightly and neither should he on the evidence of the opening two rounds of fixtures. However, it will be a bold punter who backs the visitors to cause an upset in the Bernabéu.
Real Madrid vs Levante: possible line-ups
Real Madrid XI: Casilla; Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Hernández; Kovacic, Kroos, Modric; Isco, Bale, Benzema.
Coach: Zinedine Zidane
Levante XI: Raúl; López, Postigo, Chema, Toño; Lerma, Campana, Jason, Bardhi, Ivi; Alegría.
Coach: José Ramon López Muñiz