Real Madrid close 2013 with a trip to Mestalla to take on a Valencia side who parted ways with their manager, Miroslav Djukic, during the week.
And having dropped five points behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona with the draw at Osasuna last time out, Carlo Ancelotti will be desperate not to see that gap lengthen anymore against Los Che.
The Italian’s most pressing concern ahead of the trip east is the fitness of Gareth Bale.
According to Marca the Welshman has an “inflammation to his left calf,” which he picked up in training after the draw in Pamplona.
Originally the diagnosis was that Bale would be fit for Valencia, although the injury has dragged out a little bit more this week than was initially expected.
If Bale doesn’t make it, Ancelotti has a readymade replacement in Angel di Maria, while Jese Rodriguez is also a candidate to start after emerging from the Copa del Rey win in midweek over Olimpic Xatvia as one of the few players with credit.
Cristiano Ronaldo—who missed the Copa games suspended—and Karim Benzema should both start.
Meanwhile a defensive crisis has been slightly eased for Los Blancos following the news that Sergio Ramos has had his first yellow card from last weekend’s draw against Osasuna overturned.
Ramos was sent off for two bookings and was originally expected to miss the Valencia match.
One man who will miss the game will be Pepe. The Portuguese defender picked up his fifth booking of the season at El Sadar and will enjoy a somewhat extended winter break.
With Raphael Varane not expected back until the New Year, it means Nacho Fernandez should get another chance to start for the first team at centre-back in front of Diego Lopez.
“Carlo Ancelotti wants to play his best team at Mestalla” say Marca, which more-or-less confirms that Marcelo, in the continued absence of Fabio Coentrao, will flank Ramos and Nacho on the left, but doesn’t help decipher who will play on the other side.
Dani Carvajal has started 10 matches in the league, which is one more than Alvaro Arbeloa. However the latter has started four Champions League games—two more than his younger colleague.
It’s hard to know which way Ancelotti will eventually swing, but Arbeloa is the favourite to start on Sunday night.
In midfield Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric should continue for Los Blancos.
With Sami Khedira still sidelined, Asier Illarramendi—who scored his first professional goal in midweek—and Casemiro are jostling for a position, but neither are likely to disrupt the Alonso-Modric partnership just yet.
Isco will sit further forward than those two, sandwiched between Ronaldo and either Bale or Di Maria.
The 21-year-old has enjoyed a return to form recently following a spell out of the team, and will be keen to end an impressive year with a sterling performance against the side that sold him to Malaga in 2011.
Predicted Real Madrid line up: Diego Lopez; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Nacho Fernandez, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale, Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!