21:15 BST, Sunday 26th August, Estadi Montilivi (Girona), Eleven Sports
After getting the Julen Lopetegui era off to a winning league start with an easy victory over Getafe last weekend, Real Madrid will now look for their first away win under the new coach with a testing trip to Girona, who earned a famous 2-1 triumph over Los Blancos last season.
The win against Getafe suggested that Lopetegui is already leaving a strong imprint on the team. The game showcased a distinct change in style away from the chaotic approach favoured by predecessor Zinedine Zidane towards a more measured, controlled strategy.
Girona will be no pushovers and are looking well settled with almost exactly the same team as last season. However, they need to arrest a worrying run of home form which has seen them draw two and lose four of their last six games at the Montilivi, scoring just two goals in the process: a sequence dating back to March.
The gulf in class between the two teams is obvious but Girona generally offer solid defensive organisation and will provide a decent test for Lopetegui’s emerging outfit.
Last Time Out
Girona 0-0 Real Valladolid (La Liga)
The season opener was a frustrating experience for Girona, who were totally dominant against newly-promoted Real Valladolid but could not convert their superiority into the goals their performance deserved.
The home team were particularly dangerous down the right as attack-minded full back Pedro Porro combined with winger Portu. However, their final deliveries into the box rarely had enough quality to supply the necessary ammunition for striker Christian Stuani.
The closest Girona came to breaking the deadlock was in the first half, when a free-kick from Alex Granell travelled through the defence and was heading into the bottom left corner before visiting goalkeeper Jordi Masip made a good reflex save.
The home team sent their other chances wide of the target as Valladolid held on.
Real Madrid 2-0 Getafe (La Liga)
A strong defensive display helped Madrid ease to a comfortable opening day victory over disappointing Getafe, who couldn’t muster a meaningful chance all game as they faced a brick wall of disciplined dominance from the home team.
REUTERS/Sergio PerezThere wasn’t a great deal of fluency about Madrid’s attacking play, with both goals coming courtesy of errors: a weak punch from Getafe keeper David Soria dropped straight to Dani Carvajal for a headed finish before Djene Dakonam dosed in possession and was robbed by Marco Asensio, who set up Gareth Bale for the second goal.
But Madrid were in total command throughout, controlling 78% of possession: the club’s third-highest total in the last decade and greater than any amount achieved under Zinedine Zidane.
A firm base, then, for Lopetegui’s men to launch their season.
Home team manager Eusebio – a former Real Sociedad and Barcelona B boss – likes to switch between a 3-4-3 in possession and a 4-5-1 when defending with Marc Muniesa alternating between the left back and central defensive positions while Pedro Porro gets forward as a wing back.
Girona were without three defenders in last week’s opener through injury: Johan Mojica, Jonas Ramalho and Carles Planas but the team coped comfortably without them.
Manchester City loanee Patrick Roberts is pushing for a start after a bright substitute appearance.
Real Madrid Lineup
Lopetegui sprang a surprise last week by leaving both Luka Modric and Casemiro on the bench as former Real Betis man Dani Ceballos – who barely kicked a ball last season – was promoted to the starting eleven in midfield. Modric could well return this week, though.
Another unenforced change was dropping Raphael Varane after a poor display in the UEFA Super Cup, and an able performance from understudy Nacho may be enough to retain his place for another week.
Key Battle: David Timor vs Luka Modric
Julen Lopetegui’s surprising decision to leave Modric and Casemiro on the bench last weekend showed that he is more than prepared to keep his adversaries guessing by running through his full range of options.
But with Modric gradually returning to full fitness following his World Cup exertions, it seems certain that the experienced Croatian playmaker will soon become a regular member of the starting line-up.
His crafty creative skills could be exactly what Madrid need to break down Girona this weekend.
REUTERS/Maxim ShemetovGoing up against him will be the home team’s defensive midfielder David Timor, who can be relied upon to protect his back four with good positional discipline as well as keeping things moving with the ball through his clever range of passing.
Modric, if selected, won’t be the only player for Timor to worry about because the front three are allowed to show great flexibility of movement by Lopetegui.
In terms of pulling the strings in the opposition third, it’s clear that Modric could have a big role to play and it will be Timor’s responsibility to close him down and block his passing lanes.
Less flair, more organisation?
Watching Real Madrid over the last couple of seasons has been a bewildering experience.
Zinedine Zidane’s team rarely delivered what could be called ‘great’ performances and often looked alarmingly fragile at the back. However, they generally managed to call upon their undoubted solo talents to save the day.
REUTERS/Sergio PerezThis season, though, they appear to be taking a very different direction as Lopetegui implements a more controlled approach which relies heavily on collective discipline at the expense of individual genius.
Striking the right balance will be crucial because the danger – as sometimes seen in the Spanish national team – is an excess of possession with a lack of penetration.
This Madrid team is still a work in progress. They just need to keep picking up wins while the transition is made.
New star for Girona?
The injury absence of regular right back Johan Mojica forced Girona boss Eusebio into giving an earlier-than expected debut to youngster Porro in last weekend’s season opener against Real Valladolid.
Despite only being 18 years old, Porro answered the call with an impressively authoritative and energetic performance, regularly raiding down the flank. In this role, he showed a great desire to deliver crosses into the box, making a total of six crosses: the second-highest of any player on the pitch.
With Mojica looking unlikely to return just yet it seems certain that Porro will retain his place in the team. If he can excel against Real Madrid – whom he reportedly rejected during his younger days – we could be witnessing the birth of a new star.
Prediction: Girona 1-3 Real Madrid
Girona’s adventurous wing play will cause problems for the visitors and could well yield a goal but Madrid should be able to make their extra talent tell.
Expect the visitors to exploit Girona on the break if they move ahead. The latter stages could get quite ugly for the hosts if they have to chase the game.