Having opened up a four-point lead at the La Liga summit, Real Madrid will be looking to make another important step towards the league title when they host Villarreal at Santiago Bernabeu. The Yellow Submarine secured their place in the Europa League last 16 stage with a double win over Red Bull Salzburg and they go into the Real clash full of confidence.
Three clean sheets in a row
Real Madrid have had their share of disappointing defeats this season, losing no less than four times to bitter rivals Atletico Madrid, but while each of those losses hurt the players and fans alike, it appears that the results will have little or no effect on the outcome of the season. With los Blancos thoroughly impressive in most other matches, they are cruising towards another La Liga trophy and a four-point cushion at the top of the standings should prove sufficient for the final 14 games. Meanwhile, Real all but secured their place in the Champions League quarter-final with the 2-0 away triumph over Schalke, but chances are Carlo Ancelotti will not allow his side to relax just yet. Los Blancos also showed some improvement at the back after conceding four against Atletico, keeping three clean sheets in a row, but they could find it hard to extend the good run against in-form Villarreal, who can be lethal on the break. The hosts could face a much tougher task then many would expect when they face the Yellow Submarine, although their amazing attacking potential is likely to be enough for the fourth successive victory.
Carlo Ancelotti has no fresh injury worries, but the likes of Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Sami Khedira, James Rodriguez and Fabio Coentrao remain in the infirmary.
The Luciano Vietto effect
Villarreal are clearly enjoying the most successful season since returning to the elite division, although coach Marcelino Garcia Toral needs to ensure his charges continue the rich vein of form and make the most of the opportunity that presented itself. While many believed the Yellow Submarine did not have big enough squad to successfully compete on multiple fronts, the coach has utilised his players brilliantly so far, with his rotation policy producing excellent results. Villarreal have so far reached Copa del Rey semis and Europa League last 16 stage, while they have all but secured another European qualification. But, with top 4 places still up for grabs, the Yellow Submarine will not lack motives when they face mighty Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Summer recruit Luciano Vietto has proved to be one of club’s best signings in recent years seeing as he already bagged 18 goals and even if he is rested in Madrid, he will probably enter the pitch in the second period. While defeating Atletico Madrid on the road, Villarreal gave a very good account of themselves in the 3-2 loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou, which is enough to suggest they can make life difficult for Real Madrid as well.
Marcelino Garcia Toral has confirmed he will rest some star players, while Denis Cheryshev is ineligible to face his parent club.
Real Madrid’s job will be made easier by Marcelino’s decision to rotate his squad, but they can still face problems when facing in-form Villarreal. The visitors are flying on confidence at the moment and having impressed against both Atletico and Barca on the road, I can see them scoring at least once at Santiago Bernabeu.
Top pick: Both teams to score 1.91 (10/11) @ Betfred
Alternative pick 1: Over 3.5 goals 2.05 (21/20) @ Betfair
Alternative pick 2: Home win + both teams to score 2.60 (8/5) @ William Hill