Real Madrid – Real Sociedad Preview: Los Blancos seek fresh start after winter break

REAL MADRID

Casillas

Essien, Albiol, Varane, Arbeloa

Khedira, Alonso
Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo
Higuain

REAL SOCIEDAD
Roma

Bravo

Estrada, Gonzalez, I Martinez, De La Bella

Illarramendi, Pardo

Vela, Prieto, Griezmann
Ifran

Real Madrid have a host of defensive problems heading into Sunday’s Primera Division clash with Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Fabio Coentrao (thigh), Pepe, Marcelo (both ankle) and Sergio Ramos (suspension) are out, but Raul Albiol, Raphael Varane and Gonzalo Higuain all return from spells on the sidelines.

Boss Jose Mourinho is under pressure to restore captain Iker Casillas to the starting line-up, after the Spain international was surprisingly dropped in favour of Antonio Adan for the 3-2 defeat at Malaga.

Real Sociedad are set to be without defender Carlos Martinez, who is struggling with a hip problem.

Midfielder Gorka Elustondo has recovered from a foot injury that has sidelined him since August and is likely to be named on the bench, but Asier Illarramendi is a minor doubt.

  • Real Madrid have won just four of their last nine matches in all competitions.

  • Madrid conceded the fewest number of La Liga goals in 2012, shipping just 34.
  • Los Merengues are on a 20-match unbeaten Liga run at the Santiago Bernabeu.
  • Real Sociedad are on an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions (W4, D4)

  • The Basque outfit have lost their last seven encounter with Madrid.
  • Sociedad’s last Liga win at the Bernabeu was a 4-1 success in May 2004.

Mourinho: Players peform better when they have competition

Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho has stressed the importance of competition within his squad of players, after coming in for criticisim for dropping club captain Iker Casillas for the 3-2 loss to Malaga in December.


The Portuguese has insisted that he has not lost faith in his skipper, instead highlighting the importance of striking a balance between trusting in his players and keeping them competitive.

“All positions are positions of trust, I think it is important for all players, not just for goalkeepers. All players are important,” he told reporters at a press conference.

“I don’t think it’s best for any player to be in a permanently comfortable zone. Trust is important, but also competitiveness, and what we have to do is try to find the exact point of balance [between the two].

“I think players reach their best levels of play between trust and competitiveness.”

Mourinho, one of the candidates for Coach of the Year at the Ballon d’Or ceremony, revealed he would not be attending the event in Zurich on Monday.

“I’m not attending the Ballon d’Or gala, I have a Copa del Rey match on Wednesday against Celta and I have to work.”

Xabi Alonso: We want to kick off 2013 with a win

Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso has warned former club Real Sociedad that any affection he feels for them will not stop him from going all-out in pursuit of victory when the two sides meet on Sunday.

The 31-year-old started his career at the Basque club, and represented their first team for five years, before moving to Liverpool in 2004.

“The match against Real Sociedad will be a special one for me, but all feelings will be set aside on Sunday and we’ll fight for the win,” he was quoted as saying on the club’s official website.

“We want to kick off 2013 with a win, but it will be a special match because I have friends that play on the rival team. Also because they’re a team who I’ve supported for my entire life. I have a connection with them, mainly because of my father.

“But now it’s time to play the game, we fight for what’s ours and all those feeling will be set aside for the match.”

The Spain international went on to urge his team-mates to forget their bad run of form at the end of 2012 and recover their confidence as quickly as possible.

“We have to do things right, be a team and feel confident in spite of the poor results,” he continued.

“We have to recover that confidence, that fluidity when we play score the most goals possible and recover those good feelings. Gradually create a solid base for the important games coming up in February and March.

“You have a better year by being professional and looking ahead. Obviously, I’m happy with how things went in 2012, but it’s 2013 now and we want to continue celebrating new successes, not resting on our laurels, and win important titles like we did last year.”

'Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest player that's ever played' – Goal.com debates who should win the Ballon d'Or

Ahead of Monday’s Fifa Ballon d’Or, all the focus is once again on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – to such an extent that the third candidate, Andres Iniesta, has become somewhat of a sideshow.

But who should win the famous accolade? Resident experts Carlo Garganese and Peter Staunton are once again at loggerheads.

With Carlo firmly in Messi’s court, and Peter declaring Ronaldo as the greatest player of all time, the pair will have to agree to disagree, but what do you think?

Cast your vote in the comments below to choose your victor… Carlo or Peter?

Valdano insists Mourinho has ‘average’ Madrid record

Former Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano has labelled Jose Mourinho’s record at the club as “average”.

The Blancos are reigning La Liga champions and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second successive season, but currently lie 16 points behind Barcelona in this season’s title race and finished second in their European group.

“Since Di Stefano’s era, Real Madrid have won more titles than all the other Spanish teams together,” Valdano told Fox Sports.

“That means the team wins a title every two years. Mourinho is within the average – he has taken two years and has won a title.

“Tactical technicians are gaining importance in football. Mourinho is associated with the word victory. He has won seven league titles in 10 years and the desperation to win remains with him.

“It’s why people like him will always have [a] market. He’s a safe bet.”

The ex-Santiago Bernabeu chief also lavished praised on Pep Guardiola, but admitted that the former Spain international looked out of sorts when he stepped down as Barca coach at the end of last season.

“Guardiola was exhausted, he looked tired,” Valdano added.

“I was sad for football because he is the epitome of greatness that one looks for in this game.

“He has a very specific idea of how to play football, and the idea remains romantic even when you win 13 of 16 possible titles.”