You'd think that Rafa Benitez and his men would be able to relax a little bit following their impressive, and exhausting, draw versus PSG on the road on Wednesday but that would be asking for too much as Los Blancos will hit the road again to face a terrifyingly good Celta Vigo side.
Celta, as most happen to know, is led by late-bloomer Nolito who has an impressive tally of six goals and three assists this season in eight matches. He's not someone who'll control the game throughout, but his bursts of brilliance cutting in from the left wing will provide a stern test to Danilo and Raphael Varane. Nolito's partners in crime will be Fabian Orellana and Iago Aspas in the 4-3-3 preferred by manager Eduardo Berizzo. Don't be surprised if Celta holds the possession battle as they're second in the league in that aspect (59.7 percent) and third in pass completion success (84 percent), which in turns leads to their high shot count (15.5 per game).
While Celta is second in the league in terms of goals scored (17), they're middle of the pack in goals conceded (eight, and only two clean sheets so far) so despite Cristiano Ronaldo being the only frontline starter for Real Madrid who isn't injured, Benitez's men should be able to fashion a few chances for themselves. However, despite the goals they've conceded Celta concedes the second fewest shots per game in the league (10.6) so Real Madrid's attackers will have to be more prolific than what we've seen this season.
Celta's backline is relatively nondescript, Hugo Mallo and Jonny have some potential and are pretty strong tacklers but they are a notable downgrade from the fullbacks Madrid faced midweek. Gustavo Cabral is having a strong season at CB and he'll need to have a strong outing as goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez is not much to write home about. Overall, Celta should have a nearly full compliment of players at its disposal.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, is a collection of players hobbling on their one good leg. Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Dani Carvajal and Pepe will all miss the match. Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Sergio Ramos made the team list, but Karim Benzema missed out on the last day and won't be able to feature despite returning to training with his teammates. This series of unfortunate injuries will be an obstacle, but Madrid should still be able to field a very strong side apart from a front line which will be missing 3/4 of its starters.
Offensively, it's probably safe to assume that Jese will partner Ronaldo upfront given his strong outings the past two times out. In a game that could be a shootout, the former will be a bigger threat than anyone else on the bench, for example, though Benitez could opt to field the same XI he sent out versus PSG. Lucas Vazquez could be the key in this match if he starts as his defensive workrate would be highly needed versus Nolito's pace and energy. Madrid should get its chances at Celta's goal, but this will likely be one of the biggest defensive challenges they've faced so far this season so the back four, specifically the right side, will clearly be in the spotlight. It shouldn't be shocking to see Benitez bunker up should Madrid be holding the lead in the second half instead of playing a wide open game. All things considered, that wouldn't be the most unwise strategy against a buzzsaw like Celta.
Should Madrid be able to see this one through, it would be a sigh of relief as the next match is a week away versus a meager Las Palmas side before another international break(!) could lend a hand and allow for more time for some of these injured players to recover. But, given Real Madrid's history, the team will likely come back from the break carrying the plague.