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|Match Result and Both Teams to Score
|Real Madrid and Yes
|Tie and Yes
|Elche and Yes
The Blancos have been a little sloppy defensively of late, and Elche could take advantage by finding the back of the net.
Back Real Madrid to win and both teams to score.
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In most previous La Liga seasons, being one place above Sevilla after 21 matches would be cause for consternation for Real Madrid. This term, though, it is a reason for celebration. Sevilla, not Barcelona or Atletico Madrid, are los Blancos’ closest challengers in the title race. Being one place above Sevilla means Real Madrid sit at the summit of the standings with more than half of the season gone. They are the -750 favorites to win the championship crown with FanDuel, with Sevilla priced at +600.
When Zinedine Zidane vacated his position as Madrid manager last summer, the club opted against appointing a young, up-and-coming coach. Instead, they chose to install Carlo Ancelotti in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu dugout for a second time. The affable Italian won the Champions League in his first spell in the Spanish capital, but he failed to steer Madrid to La Liga glory. However, he could make up for that this time around.
Florentino Perez, the Madrid president, chose Ancelotti because he is a safe pair of hands. Whereas Barcelona have defined themselves by style as much as success since the Johan Cruyff era, Madrid’s raison d’être has long been to win trophies. As long as they end the season with silverware, little else matters. Ancelotti, therefore, felt like a good fit, at least in the short term.
Some might argue that Madrid are on course to win the title by default. Following Lionel Messi’s exit, Barcelona were always likely to struggle this season. Madrid’s biggest rivals are down in sixth place at the time of writing. Atletico Madrid, currently fourth, have been puzzlingly underwhelming up to now.
Yet it would be churlish in the extreme to avoid giving Ancelotti credit for Madrid’s lofty position. He might not be the best manager in the world, but he is a good fit for the uniquely high-pressure environment of the Bernabeu.
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Elche won promotion to La Liga in 2019/20. They only finished sixth in the Segunda Division, squeezing into the play-offs by a one-point margin. But it was Elche who won the end-of-season tournament, squeezing past both Real Zaragoza and Girona 1-0 on aggregate to earn a place at the top table of Spanish soccer.
Last season was equally eventful for a club which will celebrate its centenary next year. Elche finished 17th, avoiding an instant return to the second tier by the skin of their teeth. They looked to be hurtling towards relegation, only for back-to-back wins at the end of the campaign to pull them out of the bottom three late on. In the end, Elche stayed up by two points.
Fran Escriba replaced Jorge Almiron as the club’s manager in February 2021 and successfully kept Elche’s heads above water. However, he too was dismissed in November after a poor run of results; Francisco Javier Rodriguez Vilchez is now at the helm. So far, he has done a good job guiding Elche to three wins and two draws in his seven games in the hot seat.The underlying numbers suggest los Franjiverdes are somewhat fortunate to be outside the bottom three. Only 19th-placed Cadiz have a worst expected goals difference, a measure of the quality of chances a team creates and concedes. There is still room for improvement for Fransisco’s side.
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Madrid might be top of the table, but they only have the third-best defensive record in the division. In fairness, that says more about Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, the top two, than it does Madrid. Ancelotti’s charges have conceded 18 goals in 21 games. They are on course to let in 33 goals over the course of the season – not a particularly outstanding record, but not a bad one either.
Yet Madrid have looked a little sloppy defensively at times. They are without a clean sheet in their last three La Liga games. Their previous top-flight encounter was a comfortable 4-1 victory over Valencia, but they could not keep their concentration and shut their opponents out.
Valencia pose more of an attacking threat than Elche, who are averaging a goal per game this term. But the visitors will see Sunday’s trip to the Bernabeu as a free hit. They have played some good soccer under Fransisco, scoring in six of their last seven matches to give themselves a bit of breathing space above the drop zone.
This should be a straightforward assignment for Madrid, whose second string could probably get the job done against Elche. The away team could score, though, so back a home win and both teams to find the net.
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|Real Madrid vs Elche Information
|Real Madrid vs Elche
|Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain
|Sunday, 23 January 2022, 10.15 AM EST
|How to watch
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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