Here we go again. La Liga is back. While getting competitive club football back after the summer is an eagerly awaited occasion as it is — for Real Madrid fans who’ve essentially been in pre-season mode since the end of February it’ll be extra sweet. A summer which started with bang -- loads of signings and a bloated squad — has kind of taken a wrong turn with perennial soap operas. In the lead role in this year’s drama is the Welshman Gareth Bale who is almost as good at football as he is at golf (well, according to a very reliable and UNBIASED Spanish press anyway). For the fans, there is not a single summer of peace and quiet. It’s filled with drama, departures, arrivals and needless transfer rumors -- frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Now time to get back to business.
Real Madrid head to Celta de Vigo this weekend for their first La Liga fixture for this season. Here we do a pre match analysis for this game.
Where is the game happening ?
Real Madrid travel to Celta’s home ground, Abanca-Balaidos. The game will be played at 17:00 CEST.
How did Celta fare last season ?
In a season where Celta finished 17th, they had a season which would be worthy of any superhero movie. When Iago Aspas got injured against Barcelona on 22 December last year, Celta were ninth, had 21 points -- seven points and nine places above the relegation zone — and were three points off Europe. They soon lost their way and were at the 18th position and four points off the safety when Aspas made his comeback from injury. They faced 17th- place Villareal in a must win game. He scored twice in an epic 3-2 turnaround after they were losing 2-0. In Superman-esque fashion, Aspas single-handedly dragged them from the brink of relegation to safety with 10 goals and four assists in the final nine games.
How was their summer business ?
Like Real Madrid, Celta have gone about their business in terms of recruitment with the arrivals of Denis Suarez, Joseph Aidoo, Santi Mina and Pape Cheikh. Three of those, with the exception of Pape, will go straight into the first team.
Aidoo (23) is a highly rated Ghanaian centre-back who made his international debut this year. He is expected to partner Néstor Alejandro Araujo, which the club hopes will fix its leaky defence which has conceded over 60 goals in the past three seasons.
In addition, Suarez and Mina will provide much needed support to Aspas with their quality. Suarez returns to his boyhood club after his nightmare spell in Barcelona and Celta will look for him to provide creativity. Signing Mina on a free transfer was a brilliant piece of business to provide goals for the team which are severely needed; especially with the departure of Maxi Gomez who scored 13 last term.
They’re also in the hunt for the signature of Nolito, who was linked to them at the time of my writing.
Wait. Who was their manager again ?
I don’t blame you if you didn’t keep a track of Celta’s manager as they went through three of them last term. Celta sacked two managers last season with Antonio Mohamed and Miguel Cardoso both shown the exit door after the team’s poor showings. They then appointed Fran Escriba, who just about guided them to safety.
Depending on the personnel available, Celta have the option of either going 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. The potential arrival of Nolito will give them tactical flexibility heading into the season.
But in their opening game against Real Madrid, they will probably go with a 4-4-2 which they used at the back end of last season due to their injuries going into the game. Both Mina and their captain Hugo Mallo are out for the game.
And the Real Madrid formation & line-up ?
Why don’t I tell you the winning lottery numbers next week while I am at it ?
But if I had to guess — despite the unexpected 3-5-2 used in the last two games of the preseason — I expected Zidane to go back to 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 that he used early on. With the abundance of wingers and just four centre backs the 3-5-2 simply isn’t sustainable for a long season. But the injury to Eden Hazard, a day before the game means we’re more likely to see 3-5-2 atleast for the opening fixture . In addition to Hazard, Marco Asensio, Ferland Mendy, Brahim Diaz and Rodrygo are out with injuries, and Dani Carvajal could potentially be suspended — which means Odriozola could start at the right back.
Hazard’s injury could mean we’ll get to see Jovic start alongside Benzema with three at the back. Theoretically, it would do two things - 1) Provide more defensively sound structure to plug the holes in defensive transition, 2) Provide an extra out and out striker to head the number of crosses in a typical Zidane scheme. This formation seems more in line with Zidane’s tinkering during the pre season.
But with Zidane expect the unexpected. It wouldn’t be out of character with him to throw out a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 with an expected start for Bale alongside Vinicius Jr. Or maybe Lucas Vasquez. Who can even tell at this point ?
How was Celta’s preseason form?
They started the preseason well with three convincing wins in three games against Lugo, Lille and Union Berlin where they scored seven goals while keeping three clean sheets. They then lost their remaining two games against Tenerife and Lazio by single goals. All in all, a mixed preseason.
How about the head to head record ?
Real Madrid have good recent form versus Celta, having just lost one game in the previous 15 fixtures. Their previous loss came all the way back in the 2013/14 season. Visiting Balaidos hasn’t been much of a problem as well. Madrid have churned out 10 wins in their 13 previous games at Celta’s home ground. But the game won’t be easy, as Celta’s recent form has been good at their home -- four wins and just one defeat in their last six fixtures there.
Real Madrid 2-1 Celta Vigo