If dropping off the pace in the title race wasn’t bad enough for Real Madrid, they’re trying to nurse a string of players back to fitness with the Champions League final in Lisbon against Atletico Madrid at the end of the month in mind.
Jese Rodriguez and Alvaro Arbeloa remain the only two players almost definitely out of that match, while the rest of Madrid’s walking wounded face a race against time to prove to Carlo Ancelotti that they should be considered for the club’s first European Cup final since 2002.
In the meantime, a patched-up Madrid side will head to Celta Vigo on Sunday evening knowing that even a win won’t guarantee they’ll still be fighting for the championship come "jornada 38" (the last day of the season).
One man definitely out of the match at Balaidos is Pepe.
Spanish publication Marca have reported that the Portuguese defender will be out for two weeks, having obtained a “grade one tear in his left calf muscle,”= making him a serious doubt for Lisbon.
That would normally pave the way for Raphael Varane to partner Sergio Ramos in the middle of Madrid’s back four this weekend, but the young Frenchman is currently struggling with "knee inflammation” and may not be risked in Vigo either.
If that is the case, Nacho Fernandez could move into the middle of defence.
With Arbeloa’s extended lay-off and Dani Carvajal missing the draw with Real Valladolid on Wednesday night, there are question marks over who will play at right-back as well.
Carvajal began training again during the latter stages of this week, although if he’s not deemed fit enough, Fabio Coentrao or Marcelo could switch from the left and slot in on the right of Ancelotti’s back four.
Diego Lopez will return in goal for what looks set to be his final appearance of the season—Iker Casillas will play against Espanyol and Atletico, per The National.
In midfield Sami Khedira is edging closer to a return, but he is more likely to be involved off the bench rather than as a direct starter in Vigo.
And with injuries elsewhere, Ancelotti is likely to look to play it safe in midfield, meaning Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso should start, with Asier Illarramendi the most likely to join them in the middle of the park.
Normally it would be Angel Di Maria, but Marca have confirmed he definitely won’t play this weekend—he could return against Espanyol, though.
The injury crisis rolls into the forward line too.
Gareth Bale wasn’t involved in the squad that travelled to Valladolid, while Cristiano Ronaldo was forced off with muscle fatigue after just eight minutes.
One of the two could feature on Sunday evening, though; Bale is the most likely, with Ronaldo perhaps due a rest.
The other two members of that front three may be Karim Benzema and Isco.
Benzema has gone seven league matches without a goal—since his double against Barcelona in March’s Clasico—and he will be desperate to end that drought.
Meanwhile Isco has been a more common option in midfield of late, but given Madrid’s short shrift with injuries he could find himself shunted back into the forward line.
Alvaro Morata remains the other option.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Diego Lopez; Dani Carvajal, Nacho Fernandez, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao; Xabi Alonso, Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale, Isco, Karim Benzema
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