Another day, another final. Assuming Barcelona wins their remaining fixtures, Real Madrid will need a combined seven points from here on out to secure the league title, and they have three games to achieve that magic number. The first of these three ‘finals’ comes Sunday against fourth place Sevilla. The match kicks off at 20:00 CET, and will be played at the same time as six other games in La Liga, including Barcelona’s trip to Gran Canaria to face Las Palmas — a match which Madridistas will surely have one eye on.
The only other match on Sunday to have a different kick-off time is Alaves - Celta Vigo, which, to be sure, has zero impact on any relegation or European spots. As a reminder, we came up with a few fun solutions on how to make this time of year more interesting for these La Liga teams who are in no-man’s-land.
Many have pinned Sunday’s fixture as the toughest of the remaining three fixtures — but I’m skeptical. Malaga, Real Madrid’s upcoming opponent, are in really good form right now, and Sevilla are heading into this match without a lot of key players, including Nasri, Rami, Escudero, Iborra, Ganso, and Sarabia. To help us get a better perspective on Sevilla’s mentality heading into this one, we reached out to Aaron of Monchi’s Men.
Kiyan: Aaron, welcome to your very first interrogation on Managing Madrid. Let’s cut to the proceedings. Sevilla seemed to have cooled off since the start of the season, particularly around the same time Leicester knocked them out. What, um, happened?
Aaron: I think it pretty clear the Leicester tie, which we dominated throughout, was a huge letdown for a team that had found a way to snatch victories from unlikely scenarios early in the season. Our luck ran out in that tie and has since been hard to come by. Sampaoli has always been close to leaving, so his terrific management in the first half of the season, when viewed from the fatalistic POV of a Sevilla fan, always trended toward him leaving this summer. That seems to have solidified in recent weeks, so it’s probably a little hard for his players recruited for his system to step up and show the boss what they can do in his last six weeks.
Kiyan: This is still a dangerous team though, needless to say. What is it that Real Madrid should be most worried about?
Aaron: Real Madrid should be worried about Pablo Sarabia. He’s been on fire and was one of the only players whose stock has grown through the second half of the season. He’ll be in front of the team that let him go, so you know he’ll be motivated in addition to his terrific form.
*Note: Shortly after Aaron sent me his answers, he sent me another e-mail stating he didn’t realize Sarabia was out, and that he actually thinks Sevilla have zero chance without him.
Kiyan: In turn, what is it about Real Madrid that would worry Sevilla?
Aaron: Marcelo is perhaps the best player in the league. I am nervous anytime he touches the ball, even next to his own corner flag. Our backline has been overwhelmed at times, so seeing him fly down the wing with Benz/Cristiano zooming around in the box is my nightmare.
Kiyan: Talk us through your feelings heading into the post-Monchi era. How prepared are Sevilla moving forward without him?
Aaron: I am certain Monchi has set the team up to see a lot of his influence for at least 2-3 cycles of signings. He cares too much to have let things slip for the club in his departure. That being said, Sampaoli’s departure is a drop in the bucket comparatively. Read any of the dozen articles the biggest sports journo’s have written about him in the last decade. Irreplaceable.
Kiyan: Bar something unlikely and bizarre, you're safe from Villarreal catching you, and also have a very slim outside chance of overtaking Atletico. Given that fourth place is almost all but a certainty for Sevilla, how much do you think they will be fired up to play this game?
Aaron: I think we’re going to be amped up, but I think Real Madrid will be even more so given what is at stake for them.
Kiyan: Call it.
Aaron (before realizing Sarabia was unavailable): I definitely think Real will win. I’ll say 3-1. Good luck!
Aaron (after realizing Sarabia was unavailable): 3-0.
Pre-game news & notes
Zidane says Bale is making progress, but there are still no clear-cut signs of his return...
"It's getting better, but you have to go day by day. But he's not even training with us. I cannot tell you when he will return, but hopefully it is soon."
On Pepe. No surprise, but Zidane didn’t drop any hints on the Portuguese defender’s future...
"Pepe's career has been spectacular," said Zidane. "It's been 10 years where he's done fantastic things, but with this I'm not telling you what is going to happen next year because I do not know.
"He will not be in the squad tomorrow because of his rib. He trained with us, but it's not quite right."
On the remaining schedule...
"We have done phenomenally so far. We look very good in LaLiga and are in the Champions League final, but it does not mean anything," said the Frenchman.
"We have three finals in LaLiga remaining and we are going to start with the first one.
"The three matches are very difficult. The one in Seville because they are always high up in the table and are a very good team.
"Look at what Celta are doing, and Malaga are in impressive shape at the moment. But we are only thinking about tomorrow."
Martin Odegaard confirms he’s not coming back to Spain next season (which, I’m not thrilled about, but Sam Sharpe and I will discuss this on a podcast at the end of the season)...
"The plan is for me to still play for Heerenveen next season," Odegaard told Omrop Fryslan.
"My contract here is until the end of next season, although there is an option to return to Real Madrid early.
"But it looks like I will be at Heerenveen next season.
"It is never easy when you arrive at a new club, I did not expect it to be easy."