The long awaited return of La Liga has finally come around, and Real Madrid find themselves back in action on 14 June, looking to chase down that two point gap between themselves and Barcelona at the top of the table.
The break in play came at a great time for Los Blancos, who had only won two of their last seven matches before the suspension. Zinedine Zidane will be hoping his players have had time to regroup and refresh, in the hopes that they can bring home some silverware.
Their first opponents are plucky overachievers Eibar, who are in serious danger of facing relegation from the top flight, sitting only two points above 18th placed Mallorca. They’ll be hoping that the February edition of Real Madrid are the ones awaiting them on the pitch at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium.
Thibaut Courtois (GK) – One of the safest picks in the squad. After a difficult first season in Madrid, Courtois finally looks every bit the goalkeeper that Real Madrid paid all that money to sign from Chelsea. 12 clean sheets in 24 La Liga games this season, with many a dominating performance on display, Courtois is without doubt one of the world’s finest shot stoppers once again.
Dani Carvajal (RB) – Despite his inconsistencies this season, Carvajal remains Madrid’s best option at right-back. Arguably the world’s best right-back when on form, Zidane and co. will hope that the break allowed him to refresh himself.
Sergio Ramos (CB) – Real Madrid just seem like a different outfit without their captain, and there will be little doubt that he’ll take his place at centre-back, ready to influence proceedings in whichever way helps his side to win. There’s little doubt that if the Eibar forwards have seen the pictures of Ramos returning to training looking absolutely hench, they’ll be quaking in their boots.
Raphael Varane (CB) – Varane looks set to play more games this season than he has done in any other season in his career so far, but hasn’t looked his absolute best. A very consistent performer, he’s been just as solid as Ramos for the majority of the season and should be looking to get back to his best for the run in.
Marcelo (LB) – Like Carvajal on the opposite flank, Marcelo hasn’t been at his best this season, and age may finally be catching up to arguably the best left-back of his generation. While there are many calls for Ferland Mendy to be given more regular starts, it’s unlikely Zidane will want to break apart his famous back four just yet. Marcelo has a point to prove, and could still be vital to any success Los Blancos have come the end of the season.
Casemiro (CM) – Arguably Real’s most important player, Casemiro keeps things ticking over, shields the defence when the full-backs attack, and is often the player who begins the attacks. The Brazilian rarely misses a game, and Los Blancos always look better with him in that holding role.
Toni Kroos (CM) – Still Madrid’s most creative influence from midfield, Kroos hasn’t been at his best this season, but that’s no reason to think he’s past it. The German play maker has registered three goals and five assists as well as still being third in the table for xA in La Liga for players in his position. Kroos’ only worry is that Martin Odegaard – coming back from La Real sooner or later – is top.
Federico Valverde (CM) – While it’s perhaps unfair to claim Kroos is past it at 30, a much better argument could be made for the 34-year-old Luka Modric – just 18 months after he won the Ballon d’Or. However, Fede Valverde is having a much better season and it may be time to start giving him a more important role in the side, leaving Modric as an option to exploit a tiring defence towards the end of the game.
Eden Hazard (LW) – There’s no doubt Eden Hazard hasn’t hit the ground running for Los Blancos, but that’s at least partially due to injuries and adjusting to a new style of play. Hazard’s best games this season have been when he’s played on the left in front of Valverde, absolving him of some defensive responsibility.
Lucas Vasquez (RW) – Vasquez is a calming influence on the Madrid front line, and a player who always puts a shift in. If Zidane decides on Hazard’s mercurial talent on the left, Vasquez will more than likely be chosen on the right to provide something a little bit different.
Karim Benzema (ST) – This is shaping up to be one of Karim Benzema’s best seasons in the Spanish capital. With 14 goals, the Frenchman is well ahead at the top of Real’s goal charts, and the only player who looks guaranteed to bag a goal every game.