High-flying Real Madrid head to the Estadio de Balaidos to encounter out-of-sorts Celta Vigo in a lopsided La Liga showdown on Friday.
Celta’s 12th consecutive season in La Liga already bears much resemblance to the last one, where they survived a dramatic relegation scrap by the skin of their teeth.
Former manager Carlos Carvalhal left the club shortly after salvaging their top-flight status, with Rafa Benitez taking his place, hoping to inspire a more solid campaign.
However, the Spanish veteran faltered on his debut, as Osasuna effortlessly thumped Celta 2-0 on day one, though a late 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad last week restored some confidence at Balaidos.
If the opening two rounds are anything to go by, high expectations for Los Blancos in our 2023/24 La Liga season preview are on point, especially with an extra bit of help from Barcelona’s day-one fiasco at Getafe.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have excelled in silencing the scepticism over their capacity to stay in the title frame without the talismanic presence of their former goal-getter Karim Benzema.
Even without an out-and-out striker, they’ve been unforgiving in the front third in the early season, mainly thanks to the effort from mega-money summer signing Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham’s blockbuster arrival from Borussia Dortmund has already started to pay off, with the skilled midfielder putting on a show in his early days in the Iberian country.
After volleying home David Alaba’s cross in a 2-0 win at Athletic Bilbao on his La Liga debut, the 20-year-old delivered a match-winning performance in a come-from-behind 3-1 triumph at Almeria last weekend.
He turned the game on its head with a brace before assisting Vinicius Junior for the third to help Madrid start Gameweek 3 looking down on the rest.
Celta must raise above off-field distractions related to the uncertain future of Gabri Veiga, whose long-awaited transfer to Napoli is in the balance, if they’re to bounce back from a poor start.
Lapses in concentration in the opening stages have been a dominant theme in Los Celestes’ early season, as they’ve conceded within 25 minutes in both league games thus far.
Given the stature of their opposition, another slow start would probably lead to the home side’s demise, especially considering they’ve lost eight of their last nine league matches against Los Blancos in Vigo (D1).
With Veiga still out of the squad, awaiting the resolution of his transfer saga, and Jonathan Bamba adapting to the new surroundings, Iago Aspas remains Celta’s best chance of penetrating Madrid’s defence.
While Ancelotti cannot complain about his side’s prolificacy, losing Eder Militao to a long-term injury leaves his backline vulnerable to the attacking threat they often couldn’t contain at Balaidos.
Despite their formidable run in Vigo, Madrid last registered a shutout in a competitive away meeting with Celta in 2003, having since conceded on all 16 visits to the city.
However, their free-scoring frontline was often there to get them out of the trouble, with Los Merengues scoring multiple goals in 14 of those 16 encounters, including the last ten in a row.
They have also won their last three away league games by a combined score of 7-2, netting at least twice in every win, so they’ll be confident about maintaining their prolific record at Balaidos.
Celta’s attack may suffer in the absence of Goncalo Paciencia and Carles Perez due to calf and muscle problems, respectively.
As for Madrid, Militao, Thibaut Courtois, Ferland Mendy, Dani Ceballos and Arda Guler are not available for this trip.
Celta potential starting line-up:
(4-4-2): Ivan Villar; Oscar Mingueza, Carl Starfelt, Unai Nunez, Manu Sanchez; Fran Beltran, Hugo Sotelo, Carlos Dotor, Jonathan Bamba; Iago Aspas, Jorgen Strand Larsen.
Real Madrid potential starting line-up:
(4-3-1-2): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Dani Carvajal, Antonio Rudiger, David Alaba, Fran Garcia; Aurelien Tchouameni, Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga; Jude Bellingham; Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior.
We Say: Celta Vigo 1-3 Real Madrid
Celta traditionally score in this fixture, but Madrid should upset former manager Benitez and comfortably walk away with three points.
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