Cornered, dangerously wounded animal or fragile team on the verge of freefall? Relax everyone. I'm not referring to Real Madrid (not yet, anyway), but instead to their opponents tomorrow evening, Mallorca. Can Real Madrid win at the Iberostar and hand Joaquin Capparos' men their 4th consecutive loss?
There's that old adage that negative events usually come in 3's and Opta notes that Mallorca, losers of their last 3 meetings against Los Blancos, have never lost 4 straight to Madrid in the top-flight. The champions absolutely need to stretch both Mallorcan streaks (current and historic) to 4 to have legitimate hopes of remaining on track to successfully retain their crown.
Real Madrid head into the match with mounting problems of their own after a demoralizing midweek loss to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and a lengthy, troubling injury list filled with all-star, international class. As has been noted, those injuries have been particularly acute along the backline and Michael Essien has been pressed into duty at left-back to decidedly mixed results (I thought he was excellent against Celta).
Jose Mourinho seems likely to once again utilize Essien at the back against Mallorca, despite a poor outing in Dortmund and mounting Madrid media murmurs in favor of giving young Castillan product, Nacho a chance to prove his worth there instead. Ultimately, Mourinho will probably favor Essien's considerable experience over the young cantera in such a hostile, away-match environment. If this fixture were held in the Bernabeu, perhaps it would be different. Mourinho's handling of Raphael Varane last-season may be instructive here, as the manager preferred to select the young Frenchman almost exclusively in the comfort of the Bernabeu as he got used to the pace of La Liga and the pressure of wearing the royal white.
Luka Modric should enter the lineup in place of Sami Khedira, who re-injured his hamstring midweek. The Croatian maestro will look to make a real impression on this match, right when Real Madrid need it most. It isn't that Modric has been poor, he just hasn't yet registered the type of dominant performance a player with his class is capable of. Part of this is systemic, as Callum Hamilton noted in his excellent piece on the difficulties inherent in improving this particular Real Madrid side. But if anyone can figure out how to assimilate Modric more successfully and seamlessly into Madrid's structural framework--it is certainly Mourinho.
Despite this always being an exceedingly tough fixture, Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last six trips to the Iberostar. They'll have to contend with a Mallorca attack bolstered by the arrival of Giovanni dos Santos, who made an immediate impact with two assists in his debut this past Monday against Sevilla. dos Santos adds a much needed option to alleviate some of the offensive pressure on Tomer Hemed who, according to Opta, has participated in 70% of his team's goals this season, the highest of any player in Spain. Capparos may opt for a 4-4-2 formation with dos Santos and Hemed up top, a system that will likely cause problems in front of Iker Casillas.
It should be an intriguing match and a tough test of Real Madrid's resolve.
What are your thoughts, Madridistas?