Levante v Real Madrid Preview
Estadio Ciudad de Valencia, Valencia
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Real Madrid have struggled mightily at this ground in recent years—something that doesn’t bode well for them as they could well trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by 11 points come kickoff.
BREAKDOWN: Real Madrid have been outscored 3-0 over their last two games at Ciudad de Valencia and will be taking nothing for granted when they visit sixth-place Levante on Sunday. In fact, a Levante victory would pull the hosts level with the reigning champions on points after 11 rounds.
The Meringues are coming off a disappointing home draw with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League as they arrive in the southeast, and while Xabi Alonso’s return from domestic suspension will bolster their midfield at a vital time they’ll have to make do without strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema, both of whom are injured.
As a result, manager Jose Mourinho will likely use Cristiano Ronaldo centrally, although it’s unclear if he’ll opt for a 4-3-3 or continue with a 4-2-3-1 despite the absences.
On the other side of the ball, Levante come into this match on a four-game winning run in which they’ve conceded only twice. David Navarro and captain Sergio Ballesteros have settled nicely after a poor start to the season, and you get the feeling the Granotes would really fly up the standings if only they could get a little more goalscoring.
They’ll be relying on Obafemi Martins for that against Madrid, and in his pre-match comments the Nigeria international predicted a “war” against the reigning champions.
“We expect a war because this year [Madrid] want to do better, but we have to play our own game,” he said. “Real Madrid are coming to our home to win, because they lost [here] last year.”
ESSENTIALS: Levante’s only notable absentee is injured midfielder Dariusz Dudka.
In addition to Higuain and Benzema, Real Madrid are still without left-backs Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao, although the latter could make a cameo appearance from the bench. Midfielder Sami Khedira is also injured.
KEY BATTLE: With Ronaldo leading the line, much of Madrid’s wide play will come down the right through Angel Di Maria. The Argentine provides exceptional service when he has the time and space, and it will be up to Levante left-back Juanfran to take both those things away from him on Sunday.
FORMATIONS: Levante manager Juan Ignacio Martinez will start a 4-2-3-1 formation fronted by Martins and supported by Juanlu, Jose Barkero and Pedro Rios. Mourinho will likely opt to give Mesut Ozil a try out on the left flank with Luka Modric in the middle, just behind Ronaldo, in a 4-2-3-1.
BETLINE: Levante 15/2; Draw 15/4; Real Madrid 4/11. Madrid’s away form has been poor this season, with just two wins from their last five matches away from the Bernabeu.