Real Madrid Have 11 fixtures to overtake Barcelona
Real Madrid return to action in LaLiga Santander needing to close a two-point gap to Barcelona at the top of the table.
The visit of Eibar marks the start of 11 matches in five weeks for Los Blancos as they look to clinch their first league title in three years.
Here, we look at the factors that could decide whether they’re crowned champions in the July heat or not.
Real Madrid won just one of their final four league matches before the break in the season – against Barcelona.
They dropped eight points against opponents they should be beating, but that’s been a common theme of their season.
In the first half of the campaign, they drew at home to Real Valladolid and Real Betis, and inexplicably lost to Real Mallorca.
Real Madrid may be temporarily staying at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano while the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is being redeveloped, but they can’t let that affect their home form.
Los Blancos are yet to lose a home game in LaLiga Santander this season, although they’ve drawn against Valladolid, Betis, Athletic Club and Celta Vigo.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have beaten all the big teams at the Bernabeu, with only Valencia left to visit the Di Stefano out of them.
Zidane seemed to favour Marcelo over Ferland Mendy on the left of defence before the break in the season.
The Real Madrid boss will have to decide between the Brazilian’s attacking strengths and the Frenchman’s defensive solidity.
“Playing without a crowd is something unknown for us. Whoever adapts the best will win,” said Toni Kroos about the prospect of playing behind closed doors.
Real Madrid have gone behind nine times in LaLiga Santander this season, so they’ll want to make a good start no matter the distraction.
It could be that Gareth Bale feels more comfortable playing without fans in attendance.
The Welshman hasn’t scored a home goal for Real Madrid for 449 days, but that could change without the pressure from the stands.
So far this season, Zidane has used the fewest number of substitutes than any other coach in LaLiga Santander with 76.
Now, with teams allowed to use five substitutes and an increased risk of injury due to the extended break, the Real Madrid boss could be forced to change his ways.
Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic have been substituted on the most often (11 times each), while Isco (11 times) and Karim Benzema (nine) have been taken off the most frequently.
“The risk of injuries increases,” Javi Martinez told MARCA about the prospect of playing every few days after an extended break.
As a result, teams are expected to rotate more often, giving some players more game time than they’d previously been used to this season.
Among those who could come in handy for Zidane are Eder Militao, Jovic, Mariano Diaz, James Rodriguez, Nacho and Brahim Diaz.
Now that Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard are fit, Zidane can deploy the attacking trident he had in mind at the start of last summer.
The pair could be set to start either side of Benzema, although that leaves Vinicius with some work to do to get into the team.
The break in the season has given Casemiro more than enough time to rest his legs.
This season, the Brazilian has played a total of 2,220 minutes and started 25 games – the most of any player at the club alongside Sergio Ramos and Benzema.
There is a risk, however, of another unwanted break. If he picks up two more yellow cards, he’ll miss a match through suspension.
Thibaut Courtois has conceded just 19 goals so far this season – the best of any goalkeeper in LaLiga Santander and 12 fewer than Barcelona’s goalkeepers.
However, Los Blancos’ 49 goals are dwarfed by Barcelona’s 63, so the focus is very much of improving going forward.
Real Sociedad and Villarreal are just four and five goals behind Zidane’s side respectively, in the goalscoring charts.