On the heels of a typically intense, physical, beautiful, hair-raising, headline-generating midweek Clasico, Real Madrid travel to Granada seeking to continue their impressive recent run of form in the Primera.
Jose Mourinho's main problem heading into this match will likely be finding ways to keep his players motivated psychologically after an exhilarating, emotional match against Barcelona and Manchester United looming on the near horizon.
Obviously, Madrid will want to continue playing well and building momentum as they head into this absolutely crucial part of the season--but staying motivated for a league match against a relegation threatened Granada could prove somewhat difficult. Maintaining focus will be paramount and I'd expect some level of squad rotation to keep the team as fresh as possible, both mentally and physically.
Mesut Ozil will be unavailable due to suspension, so Luka Modric appears likely get a start against Granada. Angel Di Maria returns from suspension and could also be selected. This match seems like a perfect opportunity for Gonzalo Higuain to get a start, or at the very least log some significant minutes, as he works his way back to full match fitness and sharpness.
As Lucas recently noted, Fabio Coentrao has been playing at a very high level, finally starting to justify the hefty transfer fee Real Madrid shelled out for his services. This provides Mourinho a very interesting choice. Does he insert Coentrao immediately back into the lineup? Or does he give Marcelo a chance to get back on the pitch. Perhaps both will feature and split time, depending on how the match unfolds.
After impressing in the Clasico, you could assume that Diego Lopez has earned another start in goal. On the flipside, though, Adan was promised a chance to compete and a start against Granada could boost his confidence and keep him engaged. I can't recall a time where there have been more interesting selection dilemmas and it'll be fascinating to see the makeup of the starting XI Mourinho chooses.
Los Blancos haven't conceded in their last three league matches, so whoever is in goal will look to extend that number to four against a low-scoring Granada side that has typically focused their attacks down the flanks, sending looping crosses into the box to create as many shots as possible. This is how they attacked Rayo Vallecano in their last home match, a convincing 2-0 victory.
However, that was before the recent sacking of manager Juan Antonio Anquela, who has been replaced by former (and extremely short-lived) Aris Salonica boss, Lucas Alcaraz. Granada took a 'Back-to-the-Future' approach with the hiring of Alcaraz, as he begins his second stint with the Granadinos, first managing the squad nearly 20 years ago.
It remains to be seen what sort of tactical approach Alcaraz will utilize, but Granada's hopes for survival were certainly strengthened with the addition of former Malaga striker Diego Buonanotte, who arrived near the end of the January transfer window. Buonanotte gives Granada a much needed cutting edge and he is certainly someone the backline will need to watch closely, should he feature in the match.
I mentioned the victory against Rayo, but that was only the second home match Granada have won this season. That's most likely due to the fact that, according to Opta, Granada have only scored nine goals at the Estadio Los Carmenes so far this season.
Opta also notes that Real Madrid have won their last three matches in Granada by an identical 2-1 scoreline.
Sounds about right.
What do you think? Banana Peel or Roadkill? Let's talk.