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La Liga, Real Madrid vs Villarreal: Match preview

Los Blancos versus The Yellow Submarine

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Things are pretty decent in the Real Madrid camp of late. After getting bopped by Atleti in the league, three straight 2-0 victories coupled with a Barcelona loss has Carlo Ancelotti's men riding fairly high as Villarreal comes to town. Pepe is back from injury, Luka Modric's return is right around the corner, Fabio Coentrao and Sami Khedira should be available next week and Sergio Ramos and James Rodriguez's returns are only weeks away. Madrid will be coming off a week's worth of rest having not played since last Sunday while Villarreal picked up a midweek Europa League win against Red Bull Salzburg. With a second leg against Barcelona looming days after Madrid, expect to see some notable rotations from Villarreal.

As far as the Madrid starting lineup, in true Ancelotti fashion we should expect more of the same. Gareth Bale had to take part in a couple indoor training sessions this week but he's good to go while Lucas Silva seems to have the upper hand on Asier Illarramendi so expect the new guy to hold down a spot alongside Isco and Toni Kroos in the 4-3-3/4-4-2 hybrid.

The opponent this weekend, Villarreal, lines up in a 4-4-2 which is very compact and airtight on defense while being perfectly set up to counter using the flanks, namely through Denis Cheryshev. Usually when one thinks of Villareal the first thought is a gung-ho all-offense all-day system but this season they've given up the exact same amount of goals as Atletico Madrid so underrate their defense at your own peril.

Sergio Asenjo is having a fine season in goal while Matteo Musacchio is their defensive stalwart having been linked to a Tottenham and Manchester United move in the past. However, should they rotate expect to see highly rated Eric Bailly start in his stead or even alongside him. In the midfield their unquestionable star has been Bruno, a long-serving one club man, but he picked up a fairly severe injury against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey tie and will be out. In his place will be a potential pairing of Manu Trigueros and Tomas Pina. Both are solid but neither is as dominant as Bruno so expect to see Madrid try and take advantage of his absence. A surprise start could be Sergio Marcos as mentioned by Allen Dodson in the latest Managing Madrid podcast.

Though Villarreal will be without the services of Cheryshev due to Madrid being his parent club, don't count out the rest of their offense. Luciano Vietto has been one of Europe's brightest young sensations this season as the 21-year-old has been directly responsible for 22 goals in 21 games (16 goals, six assists). He's not just a flat track bully either, he's scored against Sevilla, Barcelona and had a beautiful game-winner against Atleti in their last league showdown. He might be on the bench instead of starting, but he's still one to watch should the game still be in question late. His partner in attack has been Ikechukwu Uche who isn't anything special but he does have five goals to his name. Villarreal could also opt to go with Giovani dos Santos up top with Gerard Moreno (rotations) to provide a bit more of a playmaking verve as the former only played 20 minutes or so against Salzburg. The flanks will be manned by Jonathan dos Santos, not an out-and-out winger, and Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell who could cause some havoc if given the pace. A surprise starter could be promising youngster Moi Gomez. This will be a big test for Madrid's sometimes shaky back four even if Villarreal rotate as they'll have fresh legs out there.

Projected Villarreal lineup: Too tough to call with who Marcelino will rotate.

Projected Real Madrid lineup: Casillas; Marcelo, Pepe, Varane, Carvajal; Isco, Kroos, Silva; Ronaldo, Bale; Benzema

Predictions: 2-1 in favor of Real Madrid. Villarreal is truly an excellent side with a good shot at a top-4 finish, but Madrid playing at home and with more rest should be able to just edge this one out in a similar showing to the 2-0 Madrid victory earlier this season.

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