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Real Madrid were knocked off the top spot in La Liga just before the World Cup 2022 break
Real Valladolid could yet be involved in European battle or fight against relegation
Real Madrid should emerge victorious in their final match of the calendar year
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Carlo Ancelotti’s side will aim to show they mean business and a two-goal win is well within their grasp.
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This calendar year has been a memorable one for Real Madrid. Not only did they win the La Liga title without breaking a sweat, finishing a considerable distance clear of the chasing pack, but the Blancos also lifted the Champions League trophy against the odds.
It was a remarkable triumph. Madrid staged dramatic comebacks to knock out Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City in the knockout phase, while they also dispatched the holders Chelsea in between those two ties. They then held off Liverpool in the final at the Parc des Princes, winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from Vinicius Junior.
It was not quite the perfect year - Madrid were unable to get their hands on the Copa del Rey - but 2022 will live long in the memory of the club’s supporters, who have enjoyed more than their fair share of success over the last few decades. Yet the early signs suggest this La Liga season will be much tougher than last term was for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
As the campaign gets set to resume after World Cup 2022, Madrid are in second place in the standings. They led the way for much of the first part of the season, even winning the first edition of the Clasico pretty comfortably, but a 3-2 loss to Rayo Vallecano on November 7 allowed Barcelona to go top.
Marid are just two points behind their arch-rivals, and no other team is involved in the title race. But although Barcelona crashed and burned in the group stage of the Champions League, they are a force to be reckoned with again domestically.
As a result, Madrid cannot afford to take their eye off the ball in games like this one, which could be a potential banana skin if Ancelotti’s side are not fully focused on the task at hand.
Real Valladolid have been a yo-yo club over the last few years, bouncing between La Liga and the Segunda Division. They won a promotion back to the top flight in 2021/22 and are now seeking to avoid demotion.
A positive start to the campaign has led some people connected with the club to adjust their expectations. Valladolid head into the upcoming round of fixtures in 12th place. They are six points above the relegation zone but only seven behind the top six.
From a mathematical perspective, it feels like Valladolid’s season is roughly equally likely to feature a push for the European spots as a battle against the drop. However, it would be a danger for head coach Pacheta and his players to think like that. For them, the priority should remain to finish above the dreaded dotted line and extend their stay in La Liga by another year.
Indeed, it was only in the final few weeks before the World Cup that Valladolid climbed into mid-table courtesy of a run of three wins in their last five matches. Each of those triumphs came at home, evidencing the importance of the crowd at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla.
Yet Valladolid are still the fourth-lowest scorers in the division, while only three teams are giving up better chances as per the expected goals against the metric. As things stand, Valladolid look more like relegation candidates than Europa League contenders. Even an unexpected win here would not necessarily change that.
As mentioned above, Real Valladolid’s season could be defined by their home form above all else. Four of their five victories in 2022/23 have come in front of their own fans, while more than 71 percent of the goals they have conceded have been in away games.
Valladolid would not be the first promoted team to lean heavily on their home form, and there were certainly plenty of positives from their victories over Almeria, Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, and Elche at the Jose Zorrilla.
This is a far more difficult assignment, however. Madrid have not played anywhere near their best for much of the La Liga campaign so far, but they still have the individuals to win any game even when they are not playing particularly coherent soccer.
Karim Benzema has had a stop-start season up to now and the France international, who missed the World Cup through injury, may not be fit enough to feature from the first whistle here. Valladolid will hope that there are signs of ring rust from whoever does start an attack for Madrid.
Yet it is hard to look past an away victory in this one. We fancy Ancelotti’s side to make a statement of intent by winning by a two-goal margin or more.
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Teams: Real Valladolid vs Real Madrid
Location: Estadio Jose Zorrilla, Valladolid, Spain
Time: Friday 30 December, 3:30 PM, EST
How to Watch: ESPN+
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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