Real Madrid might have bombed out of the Champions League and dropped too far behind Barcelona to catch them in the race for the Spanish title, but there's still plenty to look forward to when they take on Malaga at the Bernabeu Stadium in La Liga this week.
The Spanish powerhouse will be looking to become the first Spanish club to reach 1000 home wins in history this week, and with superstar winger Cristiano Ronaldo sitting just a goal off 200 goals for Los Blancos, there's a good chance both landmarks will occur simultaneously.
Malaga are currently in sixth position domestically, but have proved in the Champions League that they are certainly not an easy team to get past this season.
They won't be able to qualify for the Champions League next year due to UEFA sanctions, but with the prospect of keeping several big stars (and perhaps even their manager) over the summer transfer window, Malaga will want to finish the season on a winning note.
It's shaping as a must-watch La Liga match as two European heavyweights try and prove their dominance over the other once more. Who's emerging victorious?
Read on for a full preview of the match including all the need-to-know details, live viewing information, analysis, predictions and a whole lot more!
Date: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Start time: 3:30 p.m. ET (Eastern Time, United States)
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid, Spain
Live Stream and TV Information
According to Live Soccer TV, beIN Sport en Espanol will provide coverage of this game in the United States while Sky Sports 3/HD will do the same in the U.K.
Recent Form and Previous Meetings
Real Madrid might have been knocked out of the Champions League by a dominant Borussia Dortmund team, but there's no doubting their domestic form is in a good place—winning 13 of their last 15 matches in La Liga and not losing at home this year. Interestingly, however, Madrid have kept a clean sheet in just one of their past 10 games.
Malaga too showed great form in the Champions League before being knocked out by Dortmund in the quarterfinals, but their La Liga form has not been as strong. They are yet to beat a team in the top eight away from home this year and have won just three of their past 10. Moreover, they've won just one of their past six matches away from home.
They do, however, have a win against Madrid this season—beating them 3-2 at home earlier in the season thanks to a brace from Roque Santa Cruz.
After a scoreless first half, Isco put the home side ahead on 49 minutes, but that was quickly cancelled out after an own goal by Sergio Sanchez.
Santa Cruz's two goals in four minutes off the bench gave Malaga a stunning 3-1 lead, and despite a late goal from Los Blancos striker Karim Benzema, they were not able to completely make up the deficit and finished with a 3-2 loss on the night.
Key Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, LW, Real Madrid
It seems almost pointless to say that Ronaldo is the key player to watch—for that he is almost every game he takes the pitch. However, with the chance to break the 200 career goal-mark for Madrid this week, the superstar winger is bound to come under even more media attention this week.
Ronaldo has netted 33 goals and eight assists in 32 appearances for Madrid this season and scored two crucial goals in his side's 4-3 win over Valledolid.
Other than the return leg against Dortmund (where Madrid won 2-0), Ronaldo has been on a goalscoring tear lately, with 17 goals in his last 14 games.
He'll no doubt be the main attacking threat to watch in this one, with his ability to cut inside and shoot from seemingly anywhere on the pitch definitely going to cause havoc for Malaga's defenders here.
Underrated Star to Look Out For: Luka Modric, CM, Real Madrid
Madrid will be without several stars in this game and may well look to some of their fringe players given that they have very little to play for against Malaga.
That could bode very well for Luka Modric.
The former Tottenham Hotspur star is finally starting to get his opportunities at Madrid and is looking like a great fit into their midfield. He is a brilliant passer and is capable of creating chances for players seemingly at will, and he also possesses a great long-shooting game to complement those skills.
He was strong in the 15-odd minutes he played against Malaga when they met earlier in the year, and Jose Mourinho won't have forgotten that performance.
I'd look for Modric to not only start here, but also be a real X-factor in the middle for Madrid as he seeks to wrap up a starting spot in the team for next season.
Biggest Storyline to Follow: Madrid's Ongoing GK Dramas
After Iker Casillas went down with injury, Real Madrid's decision to play Diego Lopez was understood. However, once the Spanish international and reigning goalkeeper of the year returned from injury, it was largely expected that he would take his place in the starting team once again—something that hasn't yet happened and is thought to be causing some tension in the Bernabeu camp.
Mourinho has openly spoken about his preference of Lopez over the Spanish No. 1, and that has forced the likes of Sergio Ramos and Pepe to speak out and support Casillas in response—creating an instant divide and hostility in the dressing room.
The "Special One" told reporters during the week (via Eurosport):
Let's see if you understand it once and for all, I am a soccer coach. They hired me to be a soccer coach and a soccer coach has certain responsibilities, one of which is to pick the team.I don't do it by flipping a coin. I do it after discussion and lengthy analysis of my decisions.
For me, I like Diego Lopez better as a goalkeeper than Iker Casillas. I don't do it to harm anyone. I accept it if someone says that Casillas is better than Diego Lopez but you have to accept that I am the coach of Real Madrid.
Lopez is expected to start against Malaga on Wednesday.
Three Stats to Consider
2. Madrid have not won either of their last two fixtures against Malaga.
40. Madrid have scored in every single one of their home games this season whilst Malaga have failed to score in over 40 percent of their away matches in La Liga.
0. Madrid have not lost a La Liga game this year in which Cristiano Ronaldo has scored.
Madrid should win this game, and they will—even with some changes and tension.
They are gunning for their 1000th home win, and it's hard to see Malaga—who have nothing to play for in terms of Champions League qualification—stopping Madrid on their home ground, when no other La Liga team has managed to do it this season.
Los Blancos might take some time to get going here, and I think their first goal will quickly be canceled out by a swift Malaga counterattack. But when it comes to the second half, Madrid will pull away and chalk up another impressive home win in the process, with Ronaldo scoring late to make it 200 career goals for the Spanish heavyweights.
Prediction: Real Madrid 3, Malaga 1
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