?In taking on Las Palmas on Saturday night at the Estadio Gran Canaria, ?Real Madrid will be hoping to continue their surge for a top two finish with three valuable points.
Confidence will be high after the ?6-3 demolition of Girona that came before the international break, although Zinedine Zidane will be hoping to see less of the defensive frailties that were on show on that day.
Indeed, the game with Las Palmas represents Zidane’s last chance to tinker with his side before he names the 11 players charged with facing Juventus on Tuesday night, in their pivotal quarter final clash with Juventus in Turin.
The Gran Canarians, meanwhile, will be praying they can conjure up the same kind of hardened performance that saw them steal a point off Barcelona earlier this month, in their increasingly plighted quest to avoid relegation – they currently sit in 18th place, seven points from safety.
While a draw this time out may seem unlikely, especially since you have to return to 2001 for their last win (which they followed up with a 7-0 drubbing in the reverse fixture), Las Palmas have actually collected a point in two of their last three matches with Madrid.
However, the most recent of these – the focus of our classic encounter – was not greeted with the emotions you might expect.
Isco had put the home side in front after only eight minutes, only for Tana Dominguez to cancel out the Spaniard’s strike just two minutes later. At the 47th minute mark, the game turned, after Gareth Bale uncharacteristically lost his head.
Having twice fouled Jonathan Viera before the winger eventually went down, the Welshman responded to Viera’s subsequent protests with a blatant shove.
As a result, the referee’s already outstretched yellow card was replaced with a red one, and Bale was given his marching orders. La Union Deportiva duly capitalised on this reduction. First, Viera cooly dispatched a penalty in the 56th minute, after Sergio Ramos handled the ball, before Kevin-Prince Boateng registered a third three minutes later with a powerful strike.
With 86 minutes gone, the Canary Island residents were still 3-1 up, and on the precipice of a historic first victory at the Santiago Bernabeu. However, one man hadn’t read the script.
With four minutes left on the clock, Cristiano Ronaldo fired home a contentious penalty of his own, before breaking Las Palmas’ hearts with a typically towering header seconds from time to save Madrid’s unbeaten home record against their opponents, and several blushes along with it.
Cristiano Ronaldo v Leandro Chichizola
Second in the scoring charts takes on 18th in the clean sheet charts, in this mismatch of a one-on-one battle.
Indeed, it’s hard to see any keeper on the planet being able to stave off Ronaldo’s current goalscoring form. The Portugal captain has accrued an astonishing 18 goals from his last nine La Liga games. Read that again. Eighteen goals.
Chichizola will have to be as focussed as he’s ever been to deny Ronaldo this Saturday. However, if he does, it will go a long way to thwarting Madrid as a whole.
Jonathan Calleri v Sergio Ramos
While goalscoring will not be the stat by which these two will be compared with this weekend, it is worth noting that Ramos’ total of three scores this season would place him in second place in Las Palmas’ goal charts this season, excluding former players.
Such a startling stat highlights their considerable scoring issues, unaided by the loss of the two erstwhile players who have scored more goals than Madrid’s defender, Loic Remy and Jonathan Viera.
If Las Palmas are to amass any points from this encounter, Calleri will clearly have to produce the goods all on his own.
After a taxing international break, Zidane will be comforted by the knowledge that he is in possession of a fully fit side, although Dani Carvajal’s fifth yellow card during the game with Girona mean he is unavailable.
Paco Jemez, on the other hand, has a far more depleted set of players from which to choose from. Gabriel Penalba, Dani Castellano, Jairo Samperio and Oghenekaro Etebo are all out indefinitely, while Pedro Bigas and Emmanuel Emenike will be absent until May at least.
Potential Las Palmas Starting Lineup: Chichizola; Aguirregaray, Navarro, Garcia, Michel; Gomez, Castellano; Momo, Aquilani, Halilovic; Calleri
Potential Real Madrid Starting Lineup: Navas; Marcelo, Ramos, Varance, Nacho; Bale, Isco, Modric, Asensio; Ronaldo, Benzema
Although one can never know with Madrid this season, with what remains at stake in terms of league positioning combined with their all important Champions League clash, it’s hard to call anything but an away victory.
However, Las Palmas have already shown runaway leaders Barcelona they have the capacity to stifle, so don’t rule out a cagey affair if they can keep it tight for the first 45 minutes.
Prediction: Las Palmas 1-3 Real Madrid