Villarreal head coach Marcelino admits he fears a potential thrashing by a Real Madrid team looking to restore some domestic pride when they visit El Madrigal on Sunday.
Madrid’s latest appeal against their Copa del Rey expulsion was rejected on Friday, with many critics in Spain accusing the club of embarrassing themselves over the incident despite their insistence that they did nothing wrong in fielding the suspended Denis Cheryshev.
The news of striker Karim Benzema’s ban from national team duties over the alleged blackmail attempt aimed at France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena cast another black mark over Madrid, who are still fighting to recover the four-point gap to league leaders Barcelona.
Rafael Benitez’s side responded in some style in midweek as they thrashed Malmo 8-0 in their final Champions League group game, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring four times and Benzema netting a hat-trick in a clinical performance at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A porous Villarreal defence, which has conceded 13 goals in seven matches, including three to Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League on Thursday, has left Marcelino concerned that Madrid could do damage this weekend.
“I worry about our defensive balance because just scoring as many as possible to win games isn’t sustainable,” he said of Villarreal, who remain a point off the Champions League places.
“We must improve our defensive intensity because it’s not at its maximum. If we defend like we did [on Thursday] against Real Madrid, it’s likely that they’ll put seven past us.”
Madrid’s hammering of Malmo means they have scored 21 goals in five games since their 4-0 defeat to Barcelona, and Benitez is eager to see his side sustain their form against a team against whom they have lost just twice in their last 30 league meetings.
“This is football and things change every week. The important thing is to carry on this run of good play and results that we must maintain,” Benitez said.
“We have to really respect the opponents. I am really satisfied with the play, attitude and the result and I hope that the team will continue in the same direction.”
Defensive injury concerns remain for Benitez, with Pepe having trained away from the squad on Friday after being substituted as a precaution against Malmo. Dani Carvajal (hamstring), Raphael Varane (thigh) and Sergio Ramos (shoulder) are still recovering.
Benitez’s formidable forward line has been given a further boost, however, with Isco set to return to the squad after missing the last two Liga games due to suspension.
Sergio Asenjo was cleared to play at the start of December following a lengthy lay-off due to a knee injury, though he has yet to make his return in the Villarreal goal.
Mario Gaspar (hamstring) and Adrian Lopez (leg) are still sidelined, while Leo Baptistao (hamstring) is likely to be out and Bojan Jokic picked up a knock on Thursday.
Key Opta Stats:
– Villarreal have lost just one of their last nine games in La Liga at El Madrigal (W7 D1).
– Indeed, only Barcelona (21) have won more points at their home than Villarreal (16) in La Liga this season.
– Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in his last three appearances in all competitions, his best such run this season.
– Denis Cheryshev made the most assists (9) and completed the most open play crosses (85) in La Liga last season for Villarreal.
– Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo scored in a single game for the first time this season in all competitions in their last Liga game against Getafe.