A lot has changed over these past three months, including the venue for Real Madrid vs Eibar in LaLiga Santander. This fixture was initially supposed to be played under the Bernabéu lights on a wintry Friday night, but now it’ll be played at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in Valdebebas on a summery Sunday evening.
This venue change – which is taking place in order for construction work at the Bernabéu to press ahead – throws up several interesting dynamics. There won’t be any fans at the game due to the coronavirus pandemic and this has led to several conversations on the topic of what home advantage actually entails. Is it the familiarity of the surroundings that really matters? Is the roar of a home support the crucial factor? We don’t know for sure, but Real Madrid won’t really have either.
Even though the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium is located in Valdebebas, the club’s training complex, the Real Madrid first-team squad don’t usually train at the 6,000-capacity stadium. Instead, they put in the hard graft on the pitches located right next to the main building. They have held sessions on the pitch at the Di Stéfano over the past few weeks in order to get familiar with the lie of the land, but Zinedine Zidane’s players aren’t really used to that stadium.
Some of the Real Madrid first-team squad members know all about the Di Stéfano from their time playing there while representing Castilla, the club’s B team. Yet several Eibar players are also familiar with that venue, having played against Castilla at some point in their career. In total, there are nine Real Madrid first-team players who have played a competitive senior level game at the Di Stéfano, while there are seven members of Eibar’s current squad who have also played there in the past.
Nine vs seven. That’s a smaller difference than you might expect. When you think about it, though, it does make some sense. Given that the Basque club is a much smaller one and one that, instead of signing galáctico talents from abroad, picks many players from the lower echelons of Spanish football, it’s logical that many of these players will have played against Castilla in the second or third division at some point.
However, the Real Madrid players who have experience at the Di Stéfano have a lot of experience, since it was their home ground with Castilla and since they played there every second week. Nacho is the player with the most official games under his belt at the Di Stéfano with 54, while Lucas Vázquez has 50, Dani Carvajal has 34, Mariano has 23, Fede Valverde has 14, Casemiro has six, Rodrygo has three and Vinícius has two. Marco Asensio is the other Real Madrid player with experience there, as he took on Castilla once with Real Mallorca back in 2014. Sergio Ramos, meanwhile, played in the inaugural friendly at the ground back in 2006 and actually scored the first ever goal at the Di Stéfano in a 6-1 win over Stade de Reims, but the centre-back has never played a competitive fixture there.
Looking at Eibar, they have one former Castilla player in their ranks in the form of Álvaro Tejero and he played 51 times for Castilla at the stadium, scoring two goals there. Then, the Basques also have Edu Expósito, Sergi Enrich, Charles, Kike García, Sergio Álvarez and Rober Correa who have all played there at least once as opposition players against Castilla. Charles, Kike García and Sergio Álvarez have even scored on visits to the Di Stéfano, for Almería, Murcia and Sporting Gijón B respectively.
As a club, Eibar even have more experience of competitive football at the Di Stéfano than Real Madrid’s first team, having visited in 2013/14. That was the year they topped the Spanish second division to win promotion to the first tier and they triumphed 1-0 in the north of the Spanish capital, following on from the 6-0 thrashing the Basque side dealt Manolo Díaz’s youngsters in the first meeting of that campaign at Ipurua. Lucas Vázquez is the only player who played that day in 2014 who could also be involved this weekend.
As for the coaches, Zidane obviously has a lot of experience of this stadium from his time as the coach of Castilla, overseeing 28 home games during his time in charge of the B team. His counterpart this weekend is José Luis Mendilibar, although he has only sat in – or, in reality, jumped around beside – the Di Stéfano dugout once, doing so back when he coached Real Valladolid to a 3-1 win there in the second division in 2006/07.
With all this said, Real Madrid do have more familiarity with the Di Stéfano than Eibar do. Of course they do. They’ve been able to train there these past few weeks, they have more players who played there for Castilla and those players racked up dozens of appearances on that pitch. Yet it’s very interesting that Eibar also have seven players with experience of that ground.
When it comes to the other main element of home advantage, the lack of support, it’ll be fascinating to see how these helps or hurts Real Madrid. Eibar coach Mendilibar actually thinks it could be an advantage for Los Blancos to be playing at the Di Stéfano instead of the Bernabéu. As he told Cadena COPE radio station in an interview this week: “I don’t know who benefits. I might even prefer for the game to be held in a huge stadium where there are only 200 people inside and then it feels more soulless for the home team. But, I don’t know which situation would be better. I just think we should be playing under the same rules as before the coronavirus. Why do we now have five substitutions allowed? With any small change you make you end up changing the sport, with bigger teams having larger squads to make these substitutions.”
Mendilibar certainly raised some interesting points. He always does. Yet he insisted he isn’t sure if Real Madrid have a greater or lesser home advantage now than if this match had been played at the Bernabéu on the Friday night in mid-March that it was originally scheduled for. Nobody knows the answer to that. We’ve already seen in the Bundesliga that home teams’ winning percentage has gone down from 43.3% before the break to 21.7% now. However, it remains to be seen exactly what will happen in LaLiga. With the competition now returning, we’re about to find out.