One wouldn't blame Real Madrid's players if they are keeping one eye on the critical stretch of fixtures starting this Saturday versus Sevilla on the road, but Carlo Ancelotti will be keen to see his side first take care of business versus lowly Almeria at home.
Real Madrid is coming into this match on the back of an offensive explosion (and defensive implosion) versus Celta Vigo in which they won 4-2. Ancelotti will be without several players, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Luka modric out due to injury while Sergio Ramos and Daniel Carvajal will sit due to suspension, so expect another mishmash of starters to come in looking for valuable late-season minutes. Therefore, expect Pepe and Alvaro Arbeloa to start while Keylor Navas will be tending the net, per Ancelotti's press conference. The real question is who starts in midfield, will Ancelotti opt for a shaky Asier Illarramendi or will this be a chance for Lucas Silva to emerge from wherever the hell he is at the moment. Ancelotti also confirmed three youth members, including Martin Ødegaard, will be on the bench so keep an eye out for them should Ancelotti decide to give them a shot.
Every season we talk about trap games, the ones on the fixture list which looks like a cupcake and which precedes the truly tough stretch of opponents. Given that Real Madrid has Sevilla-Juventus-Valencia-Juventus coming up, it would seem that, on paper, Almeria could be such a trap. In reality, that might not be the case.
Of the teams trying to stave off relegation, Almeria is the one in the best form having won two out of their last three matches. They're playing fairly well on offense as they're 17th in the league in scoring as striker Tommer Hemed leads the charge with eight goals and three assists to his name. Central midfielder Verza has also shown to be a decent threat on goal with three goals and four assists to his name. As a team, they're quite competent in set pieces (eight goals) and counterattacks (six goals), two areas where Madrid has been burned in the past so Ancelotti's will have to remain focused whenever they lose the ball. However, where Almeria struggles is in possession as they're the third worst side in the league in holding on to the ball and the second worst in completing passes.
Defensively is where things get dire for Almeria. Though four other clubs have allowed more goals, only one, Eibar, concedes more shots per game and for a side that doesn't retain possession well, Almeria is certainly not very good at winning the ball back. They're also a pretty undisciplined lot as they lead the league with a whopping nine red cards so if things get out of hand early we shouldn't be surprised if they finish the game a man down.
Given that Madrid will be looking to put this one to bed soon against a side vulnerable on defense and thinned out due to injuries and suspension, it might be safe to chalk this one up as a comfortable victory. But, matches are never won on paper so it will be interesting to see what kind of attitude and mindset Madrid will come out with in advance of the most important stretch of the season.