Real Madrid are back at the Bernabeu on Sunday and back in La Liga action after a busy fortnight of cup commitments. Rock bottom Almeria, statistically the worst team in Europe’s “big five” leagues, provide the opposition.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side will finally get a breather this coming week, but there might be some tired legs in the Real Madrid dressing room after what from a neutral perspective has been a very entertaining period in their campaign.
Across the course of their last three matches, all of which have been against either Atletico Madrid or Barcelona, there have been 19 goals. Both teams scored in every match, not that you’d have caught any of it on TV in the UK with the Spanish Football Federation failing to sell the rights to either the Super Cup or Copa del Rey.
Their Supercopa trip to Saudi Arabia was very much a successful one with Atletico ultimately brushed aside 5-3 after Extra Time in the Semi-Final. Their current superiority over Barcelona was also confirmed by a dominant 4-1 Final win with Vinicius Junior tearing into Xavi’s team with a First Half hat-trick.
If Real Madrid were on cloud nine after that match, they were brought down to earth with a bit of a bump, back on Spanish soil in the Copa del Rey. Despite controlling large periods of their 4th Round tie, defensive errors cost Real Madrid and they ultimately ran out of steam in their second Madrid derby in nine days, losing 4-2 in Extra Time at the Estadio Metropolitano.
Another game, less than 72 hours later isn’t really what they needed, but Ancelotti will at least be grateful that it’s at home and against relegation-bound Almeria. It’s the kind of match where he ought to be able to get away with a bit of rotation and with the likes of Brahim Diaz and Joselu in good form in front of goal, there are certainly options that won’t necessarily lessen his team’s considerable goal threat.
The last fortnight has asked one or two serious questions about Real Madrid at the other end of the pitch though. Their defensive record in La Liga remains excellent with only 11 conceded in 19 games, but cracks have emerged, particularly since David Alaba went down with an ACL injury last month with a string of individual errors leading to goals conceded in recent games.
Real Madrid do need to be a bit careful here not to judge Almeria solely by their league position and desperate points tally of just six. This is a team that played leaders Girona off the park only last weekend, creating all the best chances in a match that somehow finished goalless.
It has been that kind of season for Almeria. While they are far from a strong side, they’re a bit better than you might imagine a team currently on course to break all kinds of unwanted Spanish football records to be.
Their boss Gaizka Garitano, who was appointed in October, has instilled a bit more defensive discipline in them and they’ve not lost any of their last seven league games by more than a single goal which suggests they won’t necessarily be steamrolled by Real Madrid here.
One of Almeria’s brighter lights and most likely attacking threats in this game is Sergio Arribas. The 22 year old spent more than a decade as a promising young player at Real Madrid before completing a permanent transfer to Almeria in the summer. He opened the scoring after just three minutes in the reverse fixture back in August and will be hungry to make an impression on his first return to the Bernabeu here.
The good news for Carlo Ancelotti is that he should have a full squad to choose from with the exception of his long-term injury absentees with Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militao and David Alaba all on the road to recovery following ACL tears.
Ancelotti must decide whether to just name his best eleven and use a free midweek for recovery or whether to bring in some fresher legs. It’s likely he’ll make a few changes with Kepa potentially returning in goal while Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni are expected to rotate into the midfield with Luka Modric and Eduardo Camavinga dropping out.
Almeria have three players away on AFCON duty although they’re not key men and they certainly weren’t missed last Sunday as they defied expectations by dominating the game against leaders Girona.
Gaizka Garitano will be forced into at least one change here though with striker Leo Baptistao serving a suspension after picking up a fifth booking in that game. Centre-back Cesar Montes is also a doubt after picking up a knock against Girona.
Real Madrid are very short at 1/7 to win this game. You can back the Draw at 7/1 while if you’re feeling very brave, you can take a punt on Almeria to win their first league game of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu at a huge 16/1.
Despite the obvious gulf in class, a bit of defensive uncertainty in the home camp means Both Teams to Score is only a 5/6 shot here while you can back Real Madrid to Win to Nil at 19/20.
As for the goalscorer markets, Jude Bellingham, who is yet to score in 2024, is priced at 5/6 to score anytime. You can also back Vinicius Junior to score anytime at 5/6 and it does feel like he’s the less likely of Real Madrid’s Brazilian strike duo to be rested here with Brahim Diaz pushing hard for a start.
There have been goals galore in Real Madrid’s matches so far this calendar year. If you fancy that to continue here, you can back Real Madrid and Both Teams to Score at 11/8, while Real Madrid and Over 3.5 Goals is priced at 9/10.
Bet 1 - Draw/Real Madrid Half-Time/Full-Time @ 16/5
Real Madrid haven’t always come firing out of the blocks this season, scoring in the First Half in just 53% of their league games. 26 of their 40 goals in La Liga 2023/24 have come after the interval and it’s certainly possible that we might get a slightly slow start from Los Blancos with some tired legs at the end of a busy fortnight.
Significantly though, Real Madrid are now in a position to name a really strong substitutes’ bench with far more players available than was the case a month ago. Joselu and Brahim Diaz are both really useful impact subs to have, while Ancelotti’s ability to bring Modric on for Kroos or vice-versa, is some luxury to have.
Almeria have improved, but this is still a game that Real Madrid should end up winning and I’m backing Draw/Real Madrid Half-Time/Full-Time at 16/5.
Bet 2 - Almeria +3.0 Handicap @ 7/10
Despite their shocking overall record, Almeria have tended to compete quite well against the teams at the top which is certainly something to consider for anyone betting on this game.
They travelled to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in December, losing those games by only 2-1 and 3-2 margins respectively. They also put in what was surely their best performance of the season against leaders Girona last weekend where they had 20 attempts on goal to their opponents’ 5.
While they are still likely to fall just short here, I can see them at least being competitive and I’m backing Almeria +3.0 Handicap at 7/10.
You can check out Mark's La Liga Betting Tips along with those from the rest of the Betfred Insights Spanish Football writers on our La Liga home page...