Preview: Real Madrid v Sporting Gijon

After days of uncertainty over the Week 30 games, the Spanish powers-that-be have put their metaphorical foot down and turned away the Spanish League’s (LFP) request to postpone them. LFP’s reason? Something mindnumblingly foolish, which involved making more money; this writer finds herself mentally incapable of delving into the intricate details and urges everyone to just be content with LFP’s thwarted attempts. (The curious can go and read Tim Stannard’s summary over here)

The games are now scheduled to go on as per normal as Real Madrid will host Sporting Gijon at the Bernabeu on Saturday, with kick-off at 18:00 CET. The Whites are still five points behind league leaders Barcelona, with eight games remaining, including the crucial game two weeks from now as the Blaugrana come to town. Following the Sporting game, Real will face Tottenham in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter finals – after a six year dry-spell, Madrid finally broke their Knock-out stage curse by beating last season’s opponents Lyon to advance.

Making the cut for the provisional 20 player squad are:

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Adan, Dudek

Defenders: Garay, Albiol, Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe, Arbeloa

Midfielders: Lass, Khedira, Granero, Alex, Juanfran, Canales, Ozil, Di Maria, Juan Carlos

Strikers: Adebayor, Higuain

The most noticeable name in the squad is Gonzalo Higuain, who earned his first call up in 124 days since he was sidelined with a herniated disc injury at the beginning of the year. While the Argentine will not be starting the game, it’s possible that Mourinho might bring him on in the final few minutes.

Mourinho also called up Castilla’s Alex, Juanfran and Juan Carlos in place of the injured Ronaldo and the suspended Xabi Alonso. Karim Benzema, who had recently found his lethal form once more, is sidelined with a slight knock during international duty for France. Marcelo also returned with an injury. However, Jose Mourinho said that all four players would be available for the game away at San Mames against Athletic Bilbao next week.

The game against Sporting is going to be a crucial title decider: if Real Madrid drop points, they will effectively be out of contention for the league title. This is also a chance to capitalise on Barcelona’s tricky encounter away to Villarreal, where there is a possibility of the Catalans dropping points. Should Barca drop points, Madrid will have the perfect opportunity to close the gap on top and apply more pressure before hosting them at the Bernabeu, and later meeting them at the Mestalla for the Copa del Rey final.

Sporting are lying 15th in the league and have managed only seven wins this season. I suspect Mourinho will be playing Adebayor as a lone striker, with support from Ozil, Granero and Di Maria. Ozil has been in fantastic form this season and he will be the main driving force behind the four-man attack. I expect Khedira and Lass to partner up behind them and we will see a more cautiously optimistic Real Madrid side. Let me explain that: I doubt we will be firing all cylinders, just the necessary ones needed to get all three points, hence I am not expecting a huge scoreline. I am hoping to see a good game from Lass too. There have been plenty of criticism directed towards him, most of which are valid, but I think he still has the capability to deliver in a white shirt. His forward runs have proved to be valuable in the past, and might do the trick tomorrow. We’ve seen one Frenchman revive himself from the brink of death (of his career with the Whites), can we see another do the same? This writer keeps her fingers crossed.

Mourinho insisted during the pre-game press conference (excerpts of which you can find at that he is taking Sporting more seriously than Tottenham. Though, I am a little surprised that Mourinho called up Juanfran and not Morata – given that there’s no way Higuain is match fit enough to clock in anything more than ten minutes at most. Morata is on fire with Real Madrid Castilla, having scored the most number of goals this year in the Segunda B league. With Castilla lying second in their group, they have consolidated a playoff position sufficiently to do without Morata for one game.

That said, I suspect it will be a comfortable 2-0 win for us. This is the beginning of a crucial month of football where dreams are going to be made or broken as all three competitions are up for grabs. Especially with Barcelona slowing down considerably in their last few performances, this might be the best opportunity we have had so far to turn things around. Hala Madrid!

Real Madrid have also announced that Ronaldo, yes the Brazilian legend, will be there to take a honourary kick of the ball before kickoff.

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