This weekend, Real Madrid host Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu. Celta have been poor overall this season, but are coming off a big 2 - 1 win over Sevilla at Balaidos. To help set the stage for Sunday’s game, we reached out to Ian Morris of CeltaUSA:
Kiyan: Hey Ian. Looks like last season’s dramatics and heart palpitations weren’t enough for Celta fans. It seems like Celta are going to leave it late again to make sure they avoid relegation. Up for another Aspas superhero job? How are you feeling?
Ian: 2019-20 has been a rough and trying season so far despite the enthusiasm that Celta fans went into the season with. Despite big-ticket signings (for a team of Celta’s caliber) and a lot of summer hype, the team has fallen into the relegation battle for the second consecutive season. While recent play under mid-season appointment Oscar Garcia has been a lot better, the results hadn’t accompanied the improved play until last weekend’s huge win against Sevilla. I think all Celta fans are hoping that the team catches fire and distances itself from the bottom-three in order to avoid another stressful final month, but the reality is that we might be in it for the long run. While I think that Celta will avoid relegation again, I think it’s going to go down to the wire. Hopefully Iago Aspas and company are up to the task.
Kiyan: How would you say new arrivals — Rafinha, Denis Suarez, Santi Mina — have integrated into the squad so far?
Ian: Mina has had plenty of chances in front of goal this season, but has been terrible at finishing, only notching two goals. Celta has missed Maxi Gomez’s presence a lot this season, and Sky Blue fans are hoping that the mid-season signing of Fedor Smolov can recreate some of that goal magic.
Suarez drew the ire of Celta fans after a run of disappointing, low-energy performances that made him look like he was longing to be back in the comfortable confines of the Camp Nou. He was brilliant against Real Madrid in the season opener, but has fallen off sharply in recent months. After spending 12 million euros on him last summer, he’s looking like a big disappointment.
Rafinha had trouble during Fran Escriba’s tenure at Celta, as his possession-based, stale system didn’t favor his creative style of play. Under Garcia, he has established himself as a crucial piece of Celta’s offensive attack along with Iago Aspas. His creativity in the front of the midfield has created a ton of chances, and he is looking like the missing piece to the puzzle of Celta’s low-scoring offense.
Kiyan: Against Real Madrid earlier this season, Celta took advantage of Odriozola and Marcelo, getting behind them easily. Now they’ll face Carvajal and (likely) Mendy. How much will that change their approach?
Ian: Celta’s offense under Fran Escriba frustrated tons of fans, as it was very static and lacked verticality. The best option the team had was getting players down the wing and chucking crosses into the box, looking for headers that never ended up in goals. With that said, they did do fairly well (especially underrated left-back Lucas Olaza and the aforementioned Suarez) against Odriozola and Marcelo earlier this year.
While they might not find it as easy against Mendy and Carvajal, Celta’s offense is a lot more multi-faceted these days. Under Oscar Garcia, the team looks to find space and create confusion in front of goal moreso than they did with Escriba. Rafinha’s recent incredible run of form and Pione Sisto’s recent emergence have certainly helped them be more effective there. Expect Celta to try less down the wings and play more directly against Real Madrid on Sunday.
Kiyan: Aspas is now 32 *tear*. What’s the plan after him? How can Celta stabilize itself as Aspas eventually gets phased out? Or will he just pull a Joaquin and play until the age of 89?
Ian: After scoring more than 19 goals in the past three seasons, Aspas’s pace has slightly slowed down this year at the age of 32. He’s still been great, scoring eight goals and wowing fans with spectacular key passes in attack. However, it’s starting to become obvious that his peak pace won’t last forever. Aspas is under contract until 2023, and I expect him to be a key member of Celta’s squad even a few years in the future. However, it would be normal to expect him to eventually start playing fewer minutes and taking on less responsibility in Celta’s offense.
Celta has a lot of good young offensive talent in its youth ranks, including Iker Losada (who scored against Real Madrid in the season opener and is similar to Aspas in a lot of ways) and Lautaro de Leon. Combine that with young, still-promising players like Pione Sisto, Mina, and Suarez, and I think Celta has a plan to replace his production going forward, even if no one ever measures up to the Galician Messi’s legendary status in Vigo.
Kiyan: How will Celta line-up against Real Madrid, and what’s your prediction?
Ian: Here’s my best guess:
I expect them to roll with a 4-3-3, but Garcia could opt for a hybrid 5-3-2/3-5-2 with Vazquez and Olaza operating as wing-backs as he did against Valencia, which worked quite well. If he does this, expect Sisto to drop out of the starting lineup and Joseph Aidoo to join the defense as another center back.
It also wouldn’t surprise me to start Fran Beltran start in place of Bradaric, or for Denis Suarez, Santi Mina, or Brais Mendez to take Pione Sisto’s place in the XI.
I think that, while Celta is much improved and has been playing quite well recently, they don’t stand much of a chance on Sunday, especially considering Los Blancos’ recent form. They’ll put up a fight, but I predict a 3-1 win for Real Madrid.