Last week brought mixed results for Rafa Benitez and his men. In midweek, the side dug deep versus Athletic Bilbao after allowing an equalizer and ultimately came away with three tough points at a venue which has proved to be highly problematic. But, that accomplishment was dampened by an impotent attack on the weekend versus Malaga and the relinquishment of the league lead back to a Messi-less Barcelona. Will a trip to Sweden be what the doctor ordered for Los Blancos?
Benitez will be taking a squad nursing its injured up north, not having added Sergio Ramos, Danilo, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale to the squad list despite their recoveries moving along at a rapid pace. However, Jese is back in the list after having come off versus Malaga with what appeared to be severe calf cramps. Even with the injuries, Real Madrid should have more than enough offensive potential to make life hard for Malmo as Cristiano Ronaldo will surely want to get off his personal slide and with Karim Benzema serving as the Champions League group stage specialist he's always been.
Defensively, we should expect more of the same with what we saw against Malaga. With both Ramos and Pepe out of commission, Raphael Varane and Nacho will deputize the middle while Daniel Carvajal and Marcelo will do the deed out wide. The midfield is where Rafa might throw a wrench into things with the inclusion of a Mateo Kovacic or Casemiro, but with this being the final tuneup before the critical weekend derby expect the regular pairing of Luka Modrid and Toni Kroos with at least one of them coming off should Madrid be leading comfortably in the second half.
It should be interesting to note how Benitez has his team line up and take shape. Versus Athletic Bilbao we were able to see a number of looks, from the 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3 to the 4-2-3-1, but versus Malaga the shape was static and didn't change much throughout the match, not to mention the stupidly high amount of crosses when only two accomplished headers of the ball were in the lineup. Perhaps that had something to do with Jese as opposed to having a wildcard like Kovacic in the match throughout, but Benitez should look to diversify how his side approaches the various game states and especially now versus a lower side as a stern test awaits this weekend.
Speaking of that side, Malmo sits in a disappointing fifth place in the Allsvenskan and nine points behind the league leaders having dropped points in unexpected fashion versus some of the league's lower sides. Their last two matches showed the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their team: a 4-3 win and a 0-0 draw. However, they were able to hold PSG to a tame 2-0 win on the road in their first Champions League match this season so it's no guarantee that Madrid will steamroll the Swedish side, especially as reports have come out that they've narrowed the pitch in the hopes of stymieing the visitors' attack. Quotes from their side indicate that they're ready for a loss, but one can never count out a cornered side with nothing to lose.
Two players to keep an eye on for Malmo are Markus Rosenberg with nine goals to his name and Jo Inge Berget, with eight to his. However, they'll be without the services of centerback Rasmus Bengtsson and with Ronaldo and company coming to town that could prove to be a costly subtraction. Malmo will likely look to turtle and hit Madrid on the counter and through the air, but with the Spanish outfit looking to make a point early and often this could be a long day for Age Hareide's men.