Real Madrid host old foes Valencia in the Bernabéu with recent history between the sides suggesting there will be a few goals in Madrid. Last season, as Zinedine Zidane’s side inched closer to the Liga title, it was a close encounter of the deferred kind against Los Che that was viewed as key to Real’s tilt, the game having been postponed until April due to the European champions’ involvement in the Club World Cup .
Real edged the week 35 showdown 2-1 , which has become a scoreline to be feared when the fixture takes place in Mestalla. In both 2014-15 and 2016-17, precisely after Real had returned from the Fifa knockabout in Japan, Valencia were victorious by that scoreline, terminally denting Carlo Ancelotti’s Liga aspirations but only temporarily raising question marks over Zidane’s. The last eight games between the sides have ended with a minimum of three goals, three 2-2 draws, three 2-1 victories and two 3-2 wins for Real Madrid.
In just the second game of the season Zidane is already facing a personnel crisis . Cristiano Ronaldo’s moment of madness in the Spanish Super Cup was exacerbated by Sergio Ramos’ 18 Liga red card last weekend at Deportivo and both the prolific striker and club captain will be left to stew in the stands for the visit of Marcelino’s outfit. Raphael Varane failed to make the squad due to a groin injury and Castilla graduate Jesús Vallejo is also sidelined, leaving the Frenchman with just one fit senior central defender in the ever-reliable Nacho.
That will require Zidane to make some emergency adjustments to his back line, with defensive midfielder Casemiro the obvious choice to drop into a role he is fairly comfortable with. Mateo Kovacic should be available again after recovering from a knock, providing the makeshift centre of Zidane’s rearguard with an extra layer of cover behind the roving duo of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Up front, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will fly the flag for the BBC with one of Isco or Marco Asensio deputising for Ronaldo.
Five years after Unai “third place” Emery was hounded out of Mestalla for consistently delivering Champions League football with considerable swagger, Valencia have finally found a replacement with similar qualifications in football alchemy . Marcelino García Toral’s recent exploits with Villarreal – promotion from Segunda at the first attempt, three top-six finished in Primera and a run to the 2015-16 Europa League semi-finals – persuaded the Mestalla money men to hire the former Levante midfielder and to allow him to shape the squad in his image.
Financial restraints were never going to allow Marcelino to rub shoulders with the big-spenders but neither has the Valencia boss been reduced to sweet charity. A permanent deal for Simone Zaza – who opened the scoring the last time the sides met – was an astute piece of business, the prodigal Italian son seemingly settled on the East Coast and scoring the only goal of the game in Valencia’s opening day win over Las Palmas. Marcelino also moved quickly to cover for the losses of Joao Cancelo, Diego Alves and Enzo Pérez with a double loan swoop for Inter pair Jeison Murillo and Geoffrey Kondogbia and Juve keeper Neto in addition to picking up Nemanja Maksimovic on a free from Astana .
Valencia have been a motley crew for some seasons but a base of old hands like Dani Parejo, Rodrigo, Santi Mina and José Luis Gayá, a former Madrid target who will miss this one through injury, and some exciting new blood appear to have the makings of a coherent squad. Under the magician’s hand of Marcelino, Valencia could make a bid for the top six of the season, a road map that will be put to the test in the Bernabéu against Zidane’s all-conquering but weakened Liga champions.
Real Madrid – Valencia live online: possible line-ups
Real Madrid XI: Navas; Carvajal, Nacho, Casemiro, Marcelo; Kovacic, Kroos, Modric; Isco, Benzema, Bale.
Coach: Zinedine Zidane
Valencia XI: Neto; Vezo, Maksimovic, Vidal, Garay; Medrán, Soler, Parejo, Orellana; Rodrigo, Zaza.