Real Madrid vs Eibar
For what seemed a standard La Liga fixture, this clash has now taken on more importance than perhaps first anticipated.
There is no doubt Spanish giants Real Madrid are having a much better season than they were this time a year ago.
Yet the fact remains that within the next week, they could be in exactly the same position they were 12 months ago.
Since then, two defeats in a week to arch-rivals Barcelona effectively ended their season. They were well adrift in the league and ruthlessly dispatched from the Copa del Rey, as well as being comprehensively knocked out of the Champions League as reigning champions.
Now the same thing could potentially happen again, albeit Real seem in rude health and are now showing slow signs of recovery under the second coming of Zinedine Zidane – Zidane 2.0 as I’ve seen it dubbed.
That has led to plenty of La Liga highlights so far this term. Yet the reality is they trail 2-1 travelling to Manchester City in next week’s Champions League last 16 tie and are already without key performers with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and left-back Marcelo both injury doubts and skipper Sergio Ramos suspended after he was sent off in the first leg.
While they had the joy of the recent El Clásico victory, that was tarnished somewhat by their surprise defeat at Real Bettis last weekend which ceded the initiative right back to Barca in the title race.
Their league form has certainly been inconsistent of late so how they need three points and a swagger as they welcome Eibar to the Bernabeu for this clash.
One boost for the hosts is that Isco returned to full training on Wednesday after missing the defeat to Betis due to a back problem.
The midfielder is expected to be fit for a match which is being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The club is temporarily closing the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu tours in the face of the illness.
Schools in the capital had already been shut and it was agreed the next two rounds of domestic matches will be played without spectators, leading to Los Blancos taking action of their own.
On the pitch, as well as Courtois and Marcelo, Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio didn’t train either as they continue their recoveries from injury.
And then there’s Gareth Bale. Seemingly fit but out of favour.
Not only did Vinicius Junior beat him to the starting XI against City a fortnight ago following the loss of Hazard, but Zidane chose Lucas Vazquez ahead of him against Betis.
Bale even saw Mariano come on against Barcelona in the Clasico so it seems perhaps a place on the substitutes bench on Friday night is the best he can hope for.
Furthermore, Madrid signed Luka Jovic last summer but Zidane has failed to get the best out of him and on a number of occasions hasn’t even selected the forward in his matchday squads.
Eibar — who are managed by Jose Luis Mendilibar — are currently 16th and are two points above the relegation zone, so they need the points themselves.
That is hard to see though, even if Real are currently Mr Inconsistency.
In 11 meetings between these sides in the top flight, Eibar have won once, drawn once and lost the other nine.
That came in a shock at Eibar last season when Real were in a rut and went down to a 3-0 defeat, courtesy of goals from Gonzalo Escalante, Sergi Enrich and Kike Garcia.
This corresponding fixture last term went the way of the hosts who prevailed 2-1, thanks to two headers from Karim Benzema after Marc Cardona had put Eibar in front.
Earlier this season, Real won 4-0 on Eibar turf – Benzema was twice on target again with Ramos and Federico Valverde grabbing the other goals.
Eibar’s best ever result on home soil against mighty Real came in the 2004 Copa del Rey when they held them to a 1-1 draw before Madrid won the second leg 2-0.
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