Real Madrid returned to the top of the La Liga table by ending 2022 with a victory
Villarreal have picked up under Quique Setien as they target European qualification
Goals at both ends is one wager worth considering, with Madrid likely to come out on top
The odds for Villarreal vs Real Madrid are from the BetMGM sportsbook, where you can get a $1000 risk-free bet after signing up.
Villarreal are more than capable of causing the champions some problems, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side should still get the job done.
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Real Madrid are back where the club feels it always belongs: at the top of the La Liga table (on head-to-head points).
Having dropped down to the second spot in the standings just before the pause for World Cup 2022, Madrid took advantage of Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Espanyol last weekend. Their own 2-0 victory over Real Valladolid was enough to restore the champions to first place.
Not that they had everything their own way at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla. Madrid had to dig deep to emerge triumphant, with two late goals from Karim Benzema eventually getting them over the line.
Carlo Ancelotti admitted that this team did not defend particularly well despite their clean sheet. Madrid relied on Thibaut Courtois to bail them out on several occasions, although Ancelotti would no doubt argue that the brilliant Belgian is there for that exact purpose.
Benzema has endured a stop-start season due to injury, and there were clear signs of ring rust early on against Valladolid. But the former France international (he recently announced his retirement from les Bleus) grew into the game and was once again the match-winning hero for Madrid, who remained patient and eventually found a breakthrough.
Madrid, who were in Copa del Rey action in midweek, will need to be more defensively solid if they are to pick up another win against Villarreal. Barcelona are outperforming them defensively this term, but the Blancos will be reasonably confident as far as the La Liga title race is concerned.
Xavi Hernandez has never won the Spanish league as a manager, and it is three and a half years since Barcelona last got their hands on the trophy. Madrid will hope their experience wins the day.
The break for World Cup 2022 came at a good time for Villarreal. Less than a month before the tournament in Qatar, Unai Emery left the club for Aston Villa, 10 months before which he came close to taking another Premier League job at Newcastle United.
Emery won the Europa League with Villarreal and led them to the semi-finals of the Champions League, furthering his reputation as a specialist in continental competition. Memories of the team’s exploits in those two tournaments will live long in the memory of all the supporters who witnessed them.
Villarreal’s record in La Liga under Emery was not quite so good, however, and the hope is that Quique Setien can get the Yellow Submarine challenging for the top six - and perhaps even in the top four - following his appointment as their next head coach.
Setien took charge of three matches before the World Cup, two of which ended in defeat for his side. But Villarreal ended the first part of the campaign with a 1-0 victory over Espanyol, and in their first game back last weekend, they edged out local rivals Valencia 2-1. Setien’s squad clearly benefited from having a few weeks on the training ground to work with their new boss.
The 64-year-old’s reputation took a hit after a disastrous spell at Barcelona in 2020, although the issues the Blaugrana faced that year were by no means entirely of his own making. Having been out of the game since then, Setien will be desperate to make a positive impression in the ninth role of a managerial career that began at hometown club Racing Santander in 2001.
Fresh from their victory over Valencia last time out, Villarreal will now be aiming to claim the scalp of Real Madrid this weekend. The Yellow Submarine denied Ancelotti’s side victory in both of their meetings the last term, drawing 0-0 at the Estadio de la Ceramica and the Estadio Bernabeu.
That was not a one-off. Villarreal have a pretty decent record against Madrid in recent years. The Blancos have won only three of their last 10 matches against their upcoming opponents, so the home team will strive to play without fear on Saturday.
We fancy their chances of finding the back of the net at a minimum. Madrid were a little fortunate to have kept a clean sheet against Valladolid, while before that they conceded in four consecutive La Liga matches in the run-up to the World Cup.
Ultimately, though, we fancy Madrid to come out on top here. Ancelotti’s side have a knack for winning even when they are not necessarily playing well, and we can imagine them riding out a Villarreal storm before finding a way to triumph.
Back an away win and both teams to score in what should be an entertaining affair at the Ceramica.
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Teams: Villarreal vs Real Madrid
Location: Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal, Spain
Time: Saturday 7 January, 10:15 AM, 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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