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Carlo Ancelotti’s side will look to make a quick start and get the three points in the bag as quickly as possible.
All of a sudden, Barcelona have a five-point lead over Real Madrid at the summit of the La Liga standings. Carlo Ancelotti’s side suffered a shock 3-2 defeat by Rayo Vallecano on Monday, then had to watch their arch-rivals increase their advantage at the top of the table by beating Osasuna 2-1 a day later.
Madrid now find themselves under pressure heading into Thursday’s meeting with Cadiz. This will be the last game in La Liga until New Year’s Eve, with this weekend given over to Copa del Rey fixtures ahead of World Cup 2022. If they drop points again, Madrid would have even more ground to make up. The best online sportsbooks have already shifted them down to second favorites for the title.
It is too early for panic and no one should be getting carried away. The loss to Rayo was the first Madrid have suffered this term. The Blancos still managed to score twice and their opponents are having a good season. There is plenty of time left in the campaign for Madrid to get back on top.
Yet there is no denying that Ancelotti’s men were second best at the Estadio de Vallecas. A congested fixture list has not helped, with several players seemingly suffering from fatigue. Madrid simply could not match Rayo’s energy and they also struggled to control the game without Toni Kroos, their midfield metronome.
Madrid have had little time to rest and recuperate ahead of this clash, but Ancelotti will be relieved that his team does not have to face one of Spain’s powers on Thursday. The Italian will not be taken anything for granted after the defeat by Rayo, but if anything the result on Monday could help to focus minds at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
This is one of the last assignments Cadiz would have wanted as their final one before the World Cup. Currently second-bottom in the table, Los Piratas look set to be involved in another sustained battle against the drop in 2022/23, just as they were last time out.
Cadiz only avoided relegation to the Segunda Division by the skin of their teeth last season. In the bottom three heading into matchday 38, a 1-0 victory over Alaves was enough for Sergio’s side to survive. But the early signs from the current campaign suggest that another 17th-place finish might be the best Cadiz can hope for once more.
There have at least been some positive developments of late. Cadiz made a disastrous start by losing each of their first five matches, a run that could easily have cost Sergio his job. Instead, the powers that be at the Nuevo Mirandilla stuck with the former Real Valladolid head coach, and their patience was rewarded with an uptick in results.
The improvement has been steady rather than spectacular, but Cadiz have only lost one of their last eight games. That was a hefty 5-1 defeat by Rayo Valladolid, and the team has won just two of those eight matches, but they have at least become harder to beat.
A 3-2 triumph over Atletico Madrid at the end of October showed that Cadiz can be dangerous opponents on their day. Atletico’s rivals from across the Spanish capital should not take their upcoming adversaries lightly.
One thing to look out for across Europe in the next few days is how many World Cup-bound players do not represent their clubs. With stars like Paul Pogba, Reece James and Sadio Mane already ruled out of the tournament through injury, no potential participant in Qatar will want to put his fitness at risk on the eve of the big kick-off.
Karim Benzema, for instance, is unlikely to feature for Madrid after an injury-disrupted couple of months. That is clearly a blow for the Blancos, albeit one they should be able to absorb without too much difficulty.
The ideal scenario for both Madrid and their players who are off to Qatar would be for the home team to secure the three points against Cadiz nice and early. If the champions are, say, 3-0 up after an hour, Ancelotti will be able to make some substitutions without putting the result at risk.
For that reason, back over 1.5 goals in the first half at the Bernabeu on Thursday. This selection also has the advantage of remaining viable if Madrid, who have failed to win two games on the bounce in La Liga, are defensively suspect once again.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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