A Real Madrid in hot form kick-off their third week of Liga football by hosting newly promoted Xerez…
Having played three official matches this season — a season opener against bogey team Deportivo La Coruna, an away match to open Espanyol’s new stadium, and a Champions League match in Zurich — and taken the full 3 points from all of them, one has to say that Madridistas are feeling a bit excited about this season.
The biggest star of the past week also happened to be the most expensive player in footballing history, as Cristiano Ronaldo found the back of the net twice in the midweek European match with two missiles off of free kicks. Spanish sports daily AS proudly clocked the second of the Portuguese’s hits, the one so poorly handled by Zurich goalkeeper Leoni, at 103 km/h — far and above the reported range of a professional football player’s strike of 87.4 km/h to 95.76 km/h (without taking into account the desire for precision in the strike). 'CR9' has now found the back of the net four times in three matches with Madrid and is Los Blancos’ top scorer.
Sunday’s match against newly promoted Xerez promises to have the expectant Bernabeu buzzing with the anticipation of seeing their stars put on an exhibition of football in what will only be their second official match on home turf.
One area in which Los Blancos will be keen to improve is on set plays, where the defence has conceded far too many goals. While the Merengue rearguard has been relatively solid in the field of play (even with Pepe out of the line-up, still serving out the rest of his suspension), on set plays Los Blancos have been, in Iker Casillas’ own words, “disastrous”. Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini gave his side a good talking to in the first half hour of training on Wednesday to address this specific issue.
Hope for Xerez?
Juxtaposing the side from Andalusia, just recently promoted to the top flight having been crowned champions of La Segunda Division, with the mighty Real Madrid is almost comical. But it is just these sorts of matches that such small sides live for — where no expectations can draw the very best out of a team.
While Xerez have yet to secure a point in La Liga, such a dismal start will only fuel the fire of competition as the Los Azulinos come to the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid, big fish that they are, traditionally have a habit of overlooking the minnows, and coming into the match as underdogs with nothing to lose could serve Xerez better than one might expect.
It is in matches like these that teams pull out all the stops to test themselves against some of the best competition in the world, and Los Xerecistas will be hoping to withstand the initial assault long enough to be able to try for an upset. Xerez coach Jose Angel Cuco Ziganda was clear in what his team’s objective would be heading into Sunday’s match. “Our aspiration is to win in the Bernabeu,” he boldly declared.
Sept 15 FC Zurich 2-5 Real Madrid (Champions League)
Sept 12 Espanyol 0-3 Real Madrid (Liga)
Aug 29 Real Madrid 3-2 Deportivo (Liga)
Aug 25 Real Madrid 4-0 Rosenborg (Pre-season)
Aug 19 Borussia Dortmund 0-5 Real Madrid (Pres-eason)
Sept 13 Xerez 0-1 Athletic (Liga)
Aug 31 Mallorca 2-0 Xerez (Liga)
Aug 23 Xerez 4-0 Recreativo (Pre-season)
Aug 21 Sevilla 2-1 Xerez (Pre-season)
Aug 18 Xerez 2-0 Mouscron (Pre-season)
The big news in Madrid has been the recovery of Sergio Ramos, who is now both healthy (after a two and a half month bout with tendonitis) and match-fit. However, the Sevilla youth product may be playing out of his favoured right-back position as central defender Christoph Metzelder is out for three weeks with injury and Pepe is unable to play because of suspension. There is an outside chance that Ezequiel Garay could start the match paired with Raul Albiol, but it is anticipated that Ramos will fill in the central defensive role.
The big absence in the squad is Xabi Alonso. The pivotal midfielder will be out for seven to ten days after picking up a leg contusion in the midweek Champions League encounter. Manuel Pellegrini’s deputy for Alonso remains uncertain. Fernando Gago came in for Alonso against Zurich, but was unconvincing and committed a number of unforced errors. Mahamadou Diarra, the rock in defence before Lass came to Madrid, may get the nod ahead of the Argentine.
Liga fans will look forward to midweek action as Real Madrid are set to take on Pellegrini’s old squad, Villarreal, so a number of Los Blancos’ usual starters may be given a rest or may be withdrawn early. Lass will likely be saved for the Yellow Submarine, while Kaka may come off early for the promising Esteban Granero.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-2-2): Casillas – Arbeloa, Albiol, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo - Diarra, Guti - Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo - Raul, Benzema
Xerez coach Ziganda has nearly a full squad at his disposal, but will likely miss defenders Francis and captain Mendoza — the former is doubtful for Sunday’s match with injury, while the latter is suspended having picked up a red card last weekend.
The Xerez coach will also lament not being able to field the ‘Chilean Robinho’, Fabian Orellana, who was brought into the team this past Tuesday on loan through Italian side Udinese. The youngster completed his first training sessions with his new team this past week, but will not be able to make his debut until at least September 22.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Renan – Redondo, D. Prieto, Aythami, Gioda - V. Sanchez, Moreno - Calvo, Abel, Momo – Maldonado
PLAYERS TO WATCH
After a brilliant showing in midweek, Cristiano Ronaldo will be keen to continue his run of goals, and the din of the Bernabeu crowd should rise a few decibels when CR9 takes his customary five steps back from the ball in preparation to fire a blistering free kick.
Kaka and Benzema will also hope to score their first official goals for Los Blancos, while Madrid youth product Esteban Granero, who has shown maturity beyond his years after coming back from Getafe, has been in hot form.
If Xerez manage to get him the ball with any consistency, Maldonado is always a threat in front of goal and may even test Casillas form long range.
On loan from Barcelona, youth product Victor Sanchez will also be very excited to play at the Bernabeu and will look to make the Blaugrana proud with a strong showing against their bitter rivals.
On paper, Xerez are well and truly out of their depth for Sunday’s match at the Bernabeu. Madrid will be looking to give their fans a spectacle after a strong showing last weekend at Espanyol and on Tuesday in Zurich. However, Los Blancos should remember not to relax with a lead as they did in their European match, allowing Zurich to climb back from a 3-0 deficit to within a goal. If Madrid make the mistake of underestimating the visitors, the Andalusians could yet make a match of it and fight to take at least a point away from the Spanish capital.
Real Madrid 3-0 Xerez