It's hard to put a potentially season-altering game against Barca in the rear view mirror but that's exactly what Carlo Ancelotti's men must do as they hit the road to face a Sevilla side currently sitting in fifth place in the league but most likely won't be playing in next year's Champions League due to the eight point gap between them and Bilbao. Even so, this won't be an easy match by any means.
First off, expect Madrid's defense to be tested for a full 90 minutes. Only three clubs have scored more goals than Sevilla this season (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid). Sevilla's passing is less than average but they are very good in the air as evidenced by a whopping 30 percent of their goals coming off of set pieces (16 goals, tops in the league). Sevilla likes to shoot a lot but they have a bad habit of being drawn offsides. They favor playing through the middle and creating opportunities with though balls so Madrid's defense will definitely have to step up their game from what we saw this weekend.
Their offense is a threat, however; 13 clubs have conceded less goals so a shootout between the two clubs might be in the horizon. Sevilla's defense isn't devoid of talent but they have a difficult time containing counter-attacks, something which plays right into Madrid's strengths with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale out wide. Their defenders like to tackle hard and often this leads to fouls, to the tune of Sevilla committing the third most fouls per game in the league. Again, this could play into Madrid's strength with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale being accomplished free kick specialists.
Sevilla has three key players to watch out for in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. The first is attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric's Croatian compatriot and arguably one of the three best midfielders in the league this season. Rakitic has nine goals, 11 assists and 2.6 key passes per game to his name as he pulls the strings in the Sevilla midfield. His favorite targets have been striker Carlos Bacca (12 goals) and Kevin Gameiro (nine goals). Both Rakitic (two goals) and Baca (one goal) scored in the first meeting between these two clubs which ended 7-3 in favor of Madrid. Defensively there isn't much to speak about but keep an eye on Alberto Moreno as rumors have been linking the LB to Real Madrid this coming summer.
This is not going to be an easy match by any means, especially if the stench of the Barca disaster lingers in the players' minds. Angel di Maria will be out due to a carding accumulation and Sergio Ramos might be as well if his red card isn't successfully appealed. This means that Isco and Raphael Varane will start and will need to be on top of their games for Madrid to come through victorious.
Writer's prediction: 3-2 in favor of Real Madrid snapping Sevilla's five game winning streak. It'll be a tough one, though. Barca will take on Celta Vigo at home while Atleti will host Granada, so expect no changes at the top of the table.