Defeat to Barcelona in the Clasico could have been rectified with a win over Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on Wednesday night, but despite taking a first-half lead, two goals from Carlos Bacca saw Madrid slip to back-to-back defeats for the first time in the Carlo Ancelotti era.
Having turned a five point pre-Christmas deficit into a three-point lead at the top of the table, they’re now once again three points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, two off second-placed Barca.
After a week that took its toll, Ancelotti may opt to freshen up his side.
One position he’s likely to keep it the same is in goal. Diego Lopez’s spot in the side, with Iker Casillas breathing down his neck, is coming under increasing scrutiny, and a recent poll on the AS website revealed 85 percent of their readers—over 28,000 people—would prefer Iker.
Spanish football statistician @2010MisterChip pointed out that Lopez has leaked six goals from the last nine shots on Madrid’s goals, but he should maintain his place for now.
Outfield, there are still three long-term absentees from the Blancos squad through injury: Sami Khedira, Alvaro Arbeloa and Jese Rodriguez.
That means that Dani Carvajal is likely to continue at right-back, and Marcelo should remain on the other side, with Fabio Coentrao remaining on the bench.
In the middle of defence, there is the potential for a change. Sergio Ramos will return from the ban that ruled him out of the defeat to Sevilla and Pepe, despite being impressive for large parts of the season. He could be rested after a jaded performance on Wednesday.
Madrid have benefited from such a consistent midfield for the majority of 2014—Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Angel di Maria—but signs recently suggest tiredness is beginning to set in.
It means there are question marks over who will start against Rayo.
Alonso looks in need of a rest, especially with a grueling run of fixtures ahead, while Marca journalist @rujilo (in Spanish) reported that Modric missed training on Friday morning. Therefore, Asier Illarramendi could maintain his place in the side, and Angel di Maria will return from his suspension.
In his attacking three, denied the services of Jese, there is little Ancelotti can do to mix things up a little bit.
Marca have written that Cristiano Ronaldo’s form has dipped because he has been struggling with a problem in his left knee, although they do hasten to add that the knock “won’t stop him from playing”:
It would take a lot more than that to keep a player of his calibre off the pitch. In spite of being in pain he wanted to play the second leg against Schalke, even though the match was a complete no-brainer after the first leg. Since then, he has been taking great care of his knee.
Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema should also continue in Madrid’s three-pronged attack for the visit of a Rayo side who are unbeaten in their last four matches.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Diego Lopez; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Asier Illarramendi, Angel di Maria; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo