By Wednesday night, Real Madrid will no longer have their game-in-hand — that one match they always have dangling on the calendar as they make up lost-ground due to travelling for the Club World Championship. That’s a minor side effect of being the best team in the world as often as Real Madrid are.
Last season, Real Madrid had two such matches (for different reasons). One against Valencia due to the Club World Championship, and one against Celta because of a ridiculous storm. The uproar surrounding the latter was real. When that storm battered Galicia back in February of last season, the roof of Balaidos took some damage, rendering the stadium unsafe for supporters, and, as Alexandra Johnson pointed out on a Managing Madrid Podcast back in January, that stadium is actually owned by the city of Vigo rather than Celta. The decision to cancel the match (or not) was out of Celta’s hands.
Real Madrid pushed for the match to go ahead, but were unsuccessful in their pursuit. Many felt that Real were unfairly punished in this scenario, even if the reality was that little could be done. But it had less to do with storms and safety (unfortunately), and more to do with the circumstance of both teams. Celta were about to play a match in Copa del Rey. That tournament, along with the Europa League, were two competitions that (then) head coach Eduardo Berizzo had prioritized over La Liga, and he was about to rest his players against Real Madrid in the build-up to his cup fixture. Fans knew that if this game didn’t go ahead right then and there, it would mean that down the road, Celta would play their strongest XI on another day.
Later in May when the match finally took place, it didn’t matter as much. Real Madrid were in their rip-roaring spring time form, and came away from Balaidos with a controversial and weird 1 - 4 away victory. But these games-in-hand are always tough to decipher. On one hand, Real Madrid would’ve, without hindsight, liked to have played that match back in February of 2017 at Balaidos — though even despite the victory later in May, it was a scheduling nightmare, and for about two straight months, there was a Spanish team playing every single day until the end of the season. On the other hand, they might be relieved their match against Leganes comes now, during a time where the team is in much better form, in a heightened mental state, and in a situation where they are blowing their expected goals out of the water (in the last five league matches, their xG is an average of 2.8, where their actual goals are 4.6). Things are happening right now, and they weren’t happening that well back in December, when this match was originally scheduled.
Some notes ahead of tomorrow’s clash against Leganes
- Obviously Real Madrid fans have bad memories of Leganes, given they recently knocked Los Blancos out of Copa del Rey. There were a lot of flaws, from all kinds of angles (from manager to player) over the course of those two legs, but Asier Garitano got it right too. He did well over those two matches, as he’s done well with Leganes this season. They are an organized defensive side, and even when they’re spread open, they are strong recovering in transition without the ball, as displayed at the Bernabeu in the second leg of Copa. They’ve conceded just 25 goals this season — fourth best in La Liga. Fourth place Real Madrid have conceded 26.
- Problem’s arise for Garitano’s men when they’re asked to score goals. They’ve scored just 20 all season — the third lowest mark in La Liga. They have no clinical strikers in the team, and Claudio Beauvue and Alexander Szymanowski — two players relied on to take the offensive load — aren’t scoring, and neither of them are pure 9s. Their top scorer is midfielder Gabriel, with five goals.
- Out for Leganes: Darko Brasanac and Jon Ander Serantes; while Alexander Szymanowski and Mauro dos Santos should be back in the team as they return from injury.
- Out for Real Madrid: Jesus Vallejo, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Marcelo.
- A win here, and Zidane’s men will leap-frog Valencia for third place.
- Match kicks off at 6:45pm CET.