Real Madrid will be looking to return to winning ways and reclaim the top spot in La Liga when they host bottom-of-the-table Almeria at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.
Real Madrid had a mixed week, as they lifted the Spanish Super Cup trophy after beating Barcelona 4-1 in Saudi Arabia, but then suffered a 4-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey last 16 on Thursday — just a week after knocking out Atletico in the Super Cup semi-final. The loss ended their 21-game unbeaten run in all competitions and also their hopes of defending their domestic cup title.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are still in a strong position in the league, as they are only one point behind leaders Girona, who have played a game more. The Whites are undefeated at home this season. They will be confident of extending their impressive record against Almeria, who have never beaten them in the top flight.
Almeria are still searching for their first win of the season, as they have collected only six points from 20 games, leaving them 10 points adrift of safety. The Andalusian side have lost 14 of their league matches, including their last six away games in all competitions. They have scored only 19 goals this season and conceded the most (43) in the division.
Gaizka Garitano’s men did manage to hold Girona to a goalless draw at home last weekend, which was their sixth of the campaign in — a surprise results which they player very well and arguably deserved to win. They will need to produce a similar defensive performance and hope for some luck in front of goal if they are to cause a major upset at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid will be without their nominal long-term injuries: Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militao, David Alaba. Meanwhile, Lucas Vazquez has returned to the matchday squad. As Carlo Ancelotti confirmed in the pre-game press conference, Kepa will start in goal over Andriy Lunin. It’s also likely that Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni will return to the starting XI tomorrow after coming off the bench against Atletico. Fran Garcia could also start at left-back to give Ferland Mendy some rest, which makes sense, as Almeria will not test Real Madrid defensively much and Fran can help break their low block.
Almeria have one player suspended (Baptistao), and have three injuries. César Montes, Arnau Puigmal and Koné are all sidelined, while Mendes, Marciano and Baba are away for the African Cup of Nations.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Kepa; Carvajal, Rudiger, Nacho, Fran Garcia; Tchouameni, Valverde, Kroos; Bellingham, Vinicius, Rodrygo
Almeria (5-3-2): Maximilano; Pubill, Edgard, Chumi, Kaiky, Akieme; Robertone, Lopy, Melero; Arribas, Ramazani
Real Madrid are the clear favourites to win this game, as they have a superior squad, a formidable home record and a huge motivation to regain the lead in the title race. Almeria are unlikely to pose much of a threat, as they have been struggling to score and defend throughout the season. We expect a comfortable victory for the hosts, with Vinicius Junior returning to scoring form.
Real Madrid 3-0 Almeria