Real Madrid have made a stuttering start to the 2019/20 season in La Liga amid a myriad of injuries. Los Blancos began with a 3-1 win away to Celta Vigo before being held 1-1 at home by Real Valladolid last time out.
Big-money summer import Eden Hazard has missed both games through injury, and he is likely to be absent again for Sunday's tricky trip to Villarreal. Hazard won't lack for company on the treatment table, with Isco the latest to be struck by the injury bug.
Being without marquee creators is a major issue for Zinedine Zidane's squad against a Villarreal team adept at keeping the ball. The Yellow Submarine can rely on the ingenuity of former Arsenal schemer Santi Cazorla, while Samuel Chukwueze possesses the pace and eye for goal to offer a significant threat from the flanks.
Date: Sunday, September 1
Time: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET
TV Info: beIN Sports
Live Stream: fuboTV
Odds (Per Caesars)
- Villarreal: +275 (bet $100 to win $275)
- Real Madrid: -120 (bet $100 to win 83.33)
- Draw: +320
Isco is merely one of the notable names on Real's lengthy casualty list. He is joined by Hazard, James Rodriguez, Brahim Diaz, Rodrygo and Marco Asensio, per Anthony Chapman of The Sun.
As Chapman noted, Zidane can still call on Gareth Bale. The two have been portrayed as being at odds for most of the summer, but Bale has made a solid start to the season, providing an assist against Celta.
Bale's pace, shooting power and aerial threat can undermine a suspect Villarreal defence. His support of in-form striker Karim Benzema will be crucial in carrying Los Merengues' depleted ranks through the early portion of the season.
Benzema scored his 150th goal in Spain's top flight against Valladolid, and the Frenchman has been carrying the team since talismanic forward Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus last summer.
Hazard is expected to add the something extra Real have missed since Ronaldo's departure. The Belgian was back in training on Friday to continue his recovery from a thigh problem, but "he is not yet ready" to play, according to MailOnline's Amitai Winehouse.
Villarreal became embroiled in the mire of a relegation scrap last season, but Cazorla's brilliance eventually dragged the Yellow Submarine clear of the fight.
The 34-year-old has enjoyed a new lease of life since returning to Spain last summer following the injury-riddled end to his time with the Gunners:
He was out for 2 years due to an injury that required 11 operations & told that there was a chance he could lose his leg. Since then, he's guided Villarreal to the Europa League quarters & is back in the Spain squad. He's just scored his 100th career goal. Santi Cazorla. 💛 https://t.co/FBXfx6sWbK
Cazorla is the key line of supply for Chukwueze and striker Gerard Moreno. The latter has scored two in as many games, but once again defensive vulnerabilities threaten to wreck the Yellow Submarine.
Villarreal drew 4-4 at home to Granada then blew a lead to lose 2-1 in Levante last time out. Ongoing frailties at the back explain why Real remain firm favourites for this one, despite the litany of injuries in attacking areas.