Real Betis interim coach Juan Merino does not believe Gareth Bale’s absence will impact Real Madrid when they visit Estadio Benito Villamarin in La Liga on Sunday.
Madrid forward Bale was taken off at half-time during their 5-1 win over Sporting Gijon because of a calf problem and is reportedly set for up to three weeks on the sidelines.
The injury deprives Madrid of a player who has netted 13 goals in 17 appearances this season.
However, Merino – whose side are winless in their last 10 games in all competitions – feels the loss of the Wales international will not affect Madrid’s performance.
“In Madrid you take away one [player] and put in another who is equal,” Merino said. “They will continue to be the same team because they have the same quality.
“We have worked with great intensity. The draw at Villarreal [last Saturday] has helped convince us that, if we do things right, we are closer to victory than defeat.
“Above all we have to try to make Madrid uncomfortable. We have to play an outstanding game to win.”
Since taking over after Pepe Mel was sacked by Betis, Merino has overseen a 4-0 thumping at the hands of arch rivals Sevilla in the Copa del Rey and the goalless stalemate with Villarreal.
That dreadful run of fom has left Betis only five points above the relegation zone. With Betis having not beaten Madrid since 2012 and lost the last two encounters between the sides 5-0, the hosts will be firm underdogs.
Madrid’s form has predictably been in stark contrast to that of Betis – the visitors are unbeaten in their last five having scored 25 goals, although the 2-2 draw with Valencia earlier this month marked the end of Rafael Benitez’s spell in charge of the club.
Zinedine Zidane’s appointment as Benitez’s replacement appears to have invigorated Madrid, the Frenchman’s reign starting with a 5-0 defeat of Deportivo La Coruna and the subsequent demolition of Sporting.
Despite those results, Zidane’s men are still third in the table and four points adrift of Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
Madrid have scored the most goals away from home this term, netting 18 times on their travels in the league.
Betis – having conceded 28 goals so far – have a better defensive record than the other teams near the bottom of the league but, even without Bale, it is tough to envisage the hosts stopping Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema from continuing the strong start to Zidane’s tenure.
Key Opta Stats:
– Betis have gone seven league games without a win (D3 L4) and they have not scored a single goal in the last six, their worst such run in La Liga history.
– At home, Betis have gone seven league games without a win (D2 L5) and if they do not win this game, they would equal their longest such run since April 2009.
– Betis have scored the fewest home goals in La Liga this season (six, 0.67 per game)
– Away from home, Madrid have won just one of their last four league games (D1 L2).
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