Real Madrid will have to overcome a mounting list of injuries and suspensions if they are to keep themselves in the La Liga title race when Sevilla visit the Santiago Bernabeu Saturday.
Win and the European champions can close to within five points of leaders Barcelona, who themselves face a tough trip to Villarreal Sunday night.
Zinedine Zidane has just one natural centre-back available in Nacho for Sevilla’s visit with Sergio Ramos along with Dani Carvajal and Casemiro suspended, whilst Raphael Varane and Jesus Vallejo are both sidelined by injury.
Madrid have precious little room for error as they jet off to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup straight after the game and could therefore lose even more ground on their rivals who will be in league action next weekend. In the worst case scenario, Real could start the Clasico 14 points behind Barca with no realistic hope of retaining their title.
For that to happen, though, Sevilla would need to win at the Bernabeu for the first time since 2008. The Andalusians will also not be at full strength with a row between Steven N’Zonzi and the club meaning the French international has been left out of the squad for the last four games.
N’Zonzi claimed earlier this week his time at Sevilla was “over” and the saga overshadowed the Andalusians sealing their place in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.
Without N’Zonzi there is a huge reliance on Guido Pizarro to keep the likes of Isco and Luka Modric quiet and ensure Ever Banega gets enough of the ball to continue his fantastic form of late.
A Barca defence shorn of the injured Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano will have to turn to Thomas Vermaelen to face one of La Liga’s more fearsome strike forces this weekend in Villarreal’s Carlos Bacca and Cedric Bakambu. Only Lionel Messi has scored more than Bakambu’s nine goals in La Liga this season.
Vermaelen has made just 13 La Liga appearances in four years since joining from Arsenal due to a series of injury setbacks and a failed loan spell at Roma with Barca’s intention to look for centre-back cover in January saying much for their confidence in the Belgian. -AFP