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Real Madrid Vs. Málaga, 2012 Copa Del Rey: Preview And Open Match Thread

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Hey madridistas and welcome to our first match of 2012! Real Madrid host up-and-coming (but really just mediocre) Málaga in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid tonight (22:00 CET, 4:00 PM EST), and the big story of the night should be Ruud Van Nistelrooy's not-so-triumphant return to his old stadium. The Dutch striker was one of the fixtures of Real Madrid for the better part of four years, and I know that I have tons of fond memories of him; hopefully, though, his ageing body and mediocre form will prevent him from being a factor tonight.

In more Real Madrid-related plotlines, madridistas should be waiting a little anxiously to see how Mesut Özil returns from the break: the German playmaker has not been having a very good season, and has experienced a notable regression since last season. This problem will become more obvious in the upcoming games, as Angel Di Maria--who had taken over many of the playmaking responsibilities in Özil's absence, and consequently leads the team in assists--will be out for an undetermined period with a thigh injury.

In good news, newly-crowned canterano superstar José María Callejón is expected to start in place of Di Maria in José Mourinho's 4-2-3-1. Callejón has been absolutely on fire for Madrid this season, as evidenced by his stellar per-minute performance (he has been a sub for most of the season). If he keeps this up, Mourinho will have some tough decisions when Di María returns.

Finally, Kaká, whose name has been bandied about in transfer rumors for the past few weeks, will probably not start this match, though we should expect him to see some significant time, especially if Özil continues his mediocre form. The Brazilian staked a claim to the starting playmaker role earlier in the year, but lost it after a badly-timed injury; I wouldn't be shocked if he recovered the role in the near future.

Starting Lineups (projected):

Real Madrid: Iker Casillas; Álvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Lassana Diarra, Xabi Alonso; Callejón, Mesut Özil, Cristiano Ronaldo; Gonzalo Higuain

Málaga: Caballero; Monreal, Mathijsen, Demichelis, Gámez; Duda, Toulalan; Isco, Juanmi, Cazorla; Rondón