Real Madrid will be eager to build on their recent win over Granada when they take on Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Saturday.

Spanish football is experiencing action at a breakneck pace at the moment, as the second half of the 2021/22 season moves further into its critical phase. La Liga leaders Real Madrid will be aiming to consolidate their place atop the table when they lock horns with Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Saturday afternoon.

Villarreal came into the 2021/22 season buoyantly after clinching a spot in the UEFA Champions League by winning the Europa League last term. But the Yellow Submarine endured a difficult start to the season, with inconsistency pegging them back. However, their recent form has been strong, losing just one of their last eight La Liga games, dating back to mid-December.

On the other hand, Real Madrid have been the runaway leaders in La Liga this season, although they have been on a slippery slope in recent weeks. But with Sevilla dropping points in their last three games, the Merengues have managed to extend their lead to six points. Their most recent result was a 1-0 win over Granada. Another victory will be crucial ahead of the Round of 16 first leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League.

The reverse fixture played back in September ended in a goalless draw that was bereft of quality, with Real Madrid and Villarreal producing two shots on target apiece. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics


Unai Emery has one fresh injury concern hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. On Saturday, the Villarreal manager will be bereft of the services of three first-team players due to various fitness issues.

Gerard Moreno is the latest player to be sidelined, with the Spanish international recovering from a calf strain sustained in the win over Real Betis last weekend. Moreno will likely miss out against Real Madrid, joining Ruben Pena (shoulder) and Francis Coquelin (Achilles) in the treatment room.

In the final third, Arnaut Danjuma will likely deputise for Moreno, spearheading the Villarreal attack against Real Madrid. The Spanish international’s absence will also prompt Emery to shuffle his formation to 4-3-3, with Alberto Moreno and Samu Chukwueze being the two wide men. Alberto Moreno has transformed into a reliable attacker for Villarreal and will trouble Dani Carvajal on Saturday.

Manu Trigueros, Dani Parejo and Etienne Capoue will be the three midfielders in the defensive-oriented setup. Parejo will also be tasked with transitioning from defence to attack rapidly, linking up with the attackers in front of him.

Raul Albiol and Pau Torres will pair up at the heart of the Villarreal defence, looking to take advantage of Karim Benzema’s absence due to an injury. Juan Foyth and Alfonso Pedraza will be the two full-backs, with the duo’s marauding presence aiding Chukwueze and Alberto Moreno.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Parejo, Trigueros, Capoue; Chukwueze, Danjuma, Alberto Moreno

Real Madrid

Carlo Ancelotti does not have any new roster issue to contend with ahead of the trip to El Madrigal. The Real Madrid manager will be missing the services of two first-team players on Saturday, with Ferland Mendy (muscle injury) and Karim Benzema (hamstring) still sidelined.

In Benzema’s continued absence, Ancelotti will weigh up between deploying a natural striker upfront in Luka Jovic or making use of a false nine like Isco. The Spaniard should get the nod, with the Real Madrid boss aiming to utilise the movement of talismanic figure Vinicius Junior in the final third.

Vinicius will have the onus on him to pounce on pockets of space and use his directness to put the Villarreal defence under pressure. Marco Asensio will likely start ahead of Rodrygo Goes and Eden Hazard on the right flank, with the latter two and Gareth Bale being options on the bench.

Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will form the midfield trifecta, even though the game against Paris Saint-Germain is mere days away. Meanwhile, David Alaba will likely reprise the left-back role in the absence of Mendy, although Marcelo is a viable alternative.

Alaba will have Nacho, Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal starting alongside him in the defensive line, with Thibaut Courtois taking his place between the sticks for Real Madrid.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Nacho, Alaba; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Isco, Vinicius Jr.

Key Stats

  • Villarreal have won just 9.3 per cent of their La Liga games against Real Madrid (W3 D15 L24), their lowest win percentage against a specific opponent in the competition (minimum of five meetings). The Yellow Submarine have won just one of their last 11 home La Liga games against Real Madrid (D6 L4), 1-0 in December 2015, drawing the last four.
  • After five wins in a row away from home in La Liga between October and December 2021, Real Madrid lost their last game on the road, 0-1 vs Getafe – they last lost two away matches in a row in the competition in March 2020 (2) under Zinedine Zidane.
  • Real Madrid (112) and Villarreal (62) are two of the three teams (alongside Barcelona, 86) to have performed the most build up attacks in La Liga this season.
  • Unai Emery has won four of his 20 La Liga games as a manager against Real Madrid (D3 L13), beating Carlo Ancelotti with Sevilla back in March 2014 (2-1).
  • Carlo Ancelotti will manage his 100th La Liga game as Real Madrid boss (W73 D13 L13), becoming the eighth manager to reach this tally in the competition for the Madrilenian side. He has the third-highest win percentage of any Real Madrid manager in the top-flight (73.7%), after Manuel Pellegrini (81.6%) and Jose Mourinho (76.3%).

Player to Watch

Vinicius Jr.

Embed from Getty Images

2021/22 will always be remembered as the season wherein Vinicius Jr. finally started realising the immense potential within him to take the footballing world by storm. The Brazilian international has transformed into a dominant attacker who torments opposition defensive units on most days.

If not for Karim Benzema, Vinicius will likely be unanimously rated as the best player in La Liga this season. But with the Frenchman unavailable due to an injury, the onus will be on the Brazilian sensation to take sole responsibility of putting the Villarreal defence under pressure and earn all three points for Real Madrid.


Villarreal 1-2 Real Madrid

Karim Benzema’s recent absence has been telling, with Real Madrid struggling to retain their prolific form in the last couple of games. An in-form Villarreal side will not make things easy for their visitors, although the unavailability of Gerard Moreno does complicate things for the Yellow Submarine.

Arnaut Danjuma and Alberto Moreno should still make things difficult for the Real Madrid defence, but Vinicius Jr. will likely be a one-man army who will do enough to clinch a win for his side. The Hard Tackle predicts an evenly-contested affair that will end in a 2-1 victory for Real Madrid.

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