Prior to the suspension of play, Real Madrid were well and truly mid-wobble. The clásico win aside, Zinedine Zidane’s team had lost three of their last four games, were on the cusp of Champions League elimination, and were trailing Barcelona in the league.
But following the restart, Real are yet to put a foot wrong, winning all three of their post-lockdown fixtures even if they have – understandably, given the layoff – laboured at times to those nine points.
That pre-break blip was arguably triggered by a thrilling 4-3 Copa del Rey exit to Real Sociedad in early February. By beating the same opponents 2-1 on Sunday night, Madrid equalled Barcelona’s point tally at the top of the table.
A perfect record from here to the end of the season would see Madrid crowned champions by virtue of a superior head-to-head record and, while this is an ambitious goal, the first opponent they face in this task are relegation-threatened Real Mallorca on Wednesday night.
Thibaut Courtois (GK): Real Madrid’s title tilt this term has been built, uncharacteristically, on a strong defensive foundation. Los Blancos have conceded fewer goals than even Atlético Madrid this season and Courtois’ calming and commanding presence between the posts has been instrumental to that.
Dani Carvajal (RB): There are few more dependable figures in football than Carvajal. The 28-year-old may face a sizeable challenge from the highly sought after Achraf Hakimi when – or if – he returns from a loan spell with Borussia Dortmund, but for now, Carvajal is assured of his place charging up and down the right flank.
Raphaël Varane (CB): The Frenchman’s reading of the game, athleticism and ease in possession make him one of the world’s best centre-backs. Zidane has rarely named a starting XI without the 27-year-old firmly ensconced in the heart of his defence and despite the lowly league position of their opponents, Varane is a near certainty for the match.
Éder Militão (CB): Club captain (and penalty taker) Sergio Ramos may have become the top scoring defender in La Liga history against Real Sociedad on Sunday, but the 34-year-old was forced off through injury on the hour mark. While reports have indicated the Spain international may be fit for Wednesday, Militão came on as his replacement and may make his eighth league start since joining from Porto in the summer.
Ferland Mendy (LB): During his Real Madrid reign, Zidane has been staunchly loyal to the senior players of the squad, but Ferland Mendy has greatly tested that trust in experience over youth this season. The former Lyon man has been vying with Marcelo for the left-back slot all campaign and as the Brazilian was picked on the weekend, Mendy is destined to start against Mallorca.
Fede Valverde (DM): Casemiro put in another wonderful display against Real Sociedad but will serve a suspension after a tenth yellow card of the season. There is no other player like Casemiro in the Madrid squad but Zidane has turned to the Swiss army knife that is Fede Valverde in the Brazilian’s absence before.
Toni Kroos (CM): The German passing metronome is a staple of the side and even though he has played every minute post-lockdown, the 30-year-old’s cool head will surely be called upon again.
Luka Modric (CM): With Isco out injured and Casemiro barred from the pitch, Modric is one of few midfield options available. Fortunately, he is Luka Modric and, after a rest on Sunday, the Croatian will be fresh for the visit of Mallorca.
Vinícius Júnior (RW): Even as the clock ticked into the final minutes of the match, Vinícius Júnior was still dutifully harrying the Real Sociedad backline. The Brazilian teenager seems to grow in maturity with each spirited performance. Normally his talents are best deployed from the left wing, but with a certain Eden Hazard in the side, he may find his short-term future lies on the opposite flank.
Karim Benzema (ST): The Frenchman’s stunning volley against Valencia in Real’s second game back saw him move above the illustrious name of Ferenc Puskás in the club’s all-time scoring charts. Benzema took his total tally to 244 with another strike against Sociedad and even if Luka Jovi? was fit, there would be little reason to leave the 32-year-old out of the side.
Eden Hazard (LW): The Belgian winger hasn’t quite lived out the same debut season he enacted as a child, pretending to be Zidane in the park, but his two outings following the break have brought two assists and two promising performances. After being rested for the weekend’s trip to San Sebastián, Mallorca will surely be faced with the daunting prospect of a fresh Hazard from the first whistle.