19:45 GMT, Sunday 18th March, Santiago Bernabeu (Madrid, Spain) Sky Sports Football
Having endured a terrible first half of the season, Real Madrid have returned to their best form in the past few months. Los Blancos have won eight of their last nine games in all competitions, including a comfortable two-legged victory in the UEFA Champions League over high-spending PSG.
Zinedine Zidane’s side are now firmly focused on success in Europe’s premier competition, with the 15-point gulf between themselves and league-leaders Barcelona surely impossible to overturn. Real are all-but assured a place in the top four and lead fifth-placed Sevilla by a comfortable 12-point margin.
The prospect of leapfrogging city rivals Atletico Madrid into second-place should, however, provide them with enough motivation to maintain their focus in the league.
Girona have been one of the stand-out stories in La Liga this season. The newly promoted Catalan minnows have looked more than competitive at this level and are now eyeing up a place in next season’s European competition.
Sitting in seventh-place at present, Girona are only a solitary point behind sixth-placed Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine are themselves out of form and Pablo Machin’s side will feel capable of breaking into La Liga’s top six.
In Spain, a seventh-placed finish is often enough to secure a place in the Europa League. After Sunday night’s clash, Girona play only one of the league’s current top five before the end of the season and a positive result against Real Madrid would give their European hopes a significant boost.
Last Time Out
Eibar 1-2 Real Madrid (La Liga)
Real Madrid had to work hard for their victory against a stubborn Eibar outfit. Much of the game was even, yet the visitors were ultimately the more clinical of the two sides.
The home side started the brighter and will have been frustrated by the manner in which they conceded the first goal. Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of some poor Eibar defending to give his side the lead after 34 minutes.
Eibar continued to front-up against their more illustrious opponents and were rewarded with an equaliser through defender Ivan Ramis, five minutes after the break.
Real Madrid struggled to find the breakthrough and looked more likely to concede themselves than score in much of the second half.
Once again, however, Ronaldo stepped up to score the winner, via a powerful header from close-range, to seal all three points for his side.
Girona 2-0 Deportivo La Coruna (La Liga)
The hosts made it three wins in three with a dominant display against relegation-threatened Deportivo La Coruna. Girona controlled the midfield, with Alex Granell and Pere Pons particularly impressing and were good-value for their victory.
Top-scorer Cristhian Stuani gave the home side the lead after 22 minutes, following up on a rebound from a Girona corner.
The Catalans came close to scoring several times in the second-half and Juanpe Ramirez doubled the scoreline in the 57th minute, with a thumping header from another set-piece.
Real Madrid Lineup
Zinedine Zidane can pick from a relatively injury-free squad this weekend, yet several key players are struggling for full match fitness.
Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos have all trained below full intensity in the past week, but are all still likely to be considered for selection on Sunday night.
Pablo Machin is able to select an unchanged side this weekend and will hope that consistency in the lineup will help them maintain their excellent run.
Goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz (calf) and left back Carles Planas (hamstring) will both continue to miss out through injury.
Key Battle: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) vs Cristhian Stuani (Girona)
Having started the season poorly in regards to goals scored, Cristiano Ronaldo is more than making up for lost time. The FIFA Ballon d’Or winner has scored a remarkable 17 goals and created three assists in only his last ten competitive fixtures.
The 33-year-old’s three goals against PSG in the UEFA Champions League were vital to securing his side’s progression and he won all three points almost single-handedly last weekend against Eibar in La Liga.
Ronaldo tends to accelerate his goal-scoring return as the season progresses and he is certainly in a dangerous mood at present.
Facing the unenviable challenge of cancelling out Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals will be Girona’s Cristhian Stuani. The 31-year-old has enjoyed the most prolific goal-scoring season of his top-flight career and is La Liga’s sixth top scorer, with 15 goals.
The Uruguayan international carries a potent aerial threat and has played an integral role in Girona’s successful record at set-pieces this season.
Stuani has scored five goals in his last five games, including a double against Athletic Bilbao. Chances may be few and far between for Girona on Sunday night and the forward will have to be at his very best if his side are to prove competitive.
Real Madrid peaking at the season’s climax yet again
In the past four seasons, Real Madrid have won the UEFA Champions League three times, the Copa del Rey twice, and last year’s La Liga title. The climax of the season appears to unleash an extra hidden gear in this Los Blancos squad and they have timed the peak of their form to perfection in recent years.
Unfortunately for Zidane, so poor was the start to his side’s league campaign this season that they are already too far Barcelona to defend their La Liga title. They are, however, beginning to click in Europe and a strong finish in the league will give the Frenchman some much-needed job security heading into the summer.
Girona’s 3-4-3 formation to confuse Real Madrid once more?
Back in October of last year, Girona exploded into the football world’s collective consciousness with a spectacular 2-1 win against European champions Real Madrid. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Zidane’s side found it difficult to break down the home side who were happy to sit deep in an organised back five whenever Real had the ball.
Whenever the Catalans nicked the ball, most often through the industrious efforts of midfielder Alex Granell, the two wing backs would surge up the pitch, causing havoc behind the high defensive line of Real Madrid. Marcelo, in particular, was constantly caught out by young right back Pablo Maffeo who carved out numerous chances throughout the game.
If Girona can implement their unique tactical approach with the same focus and organisation as they did in the reverse fixture then they may well pull off another famous upset.
Prediction: Real Madrid 2-1 Girona
The home side will be keen to avenge their October defeat at the hands of Sunday’s opponents. It was a loss seen as emblematic of Real Madrid’s decline and they will be want to emphasise their resurgence with an assertive winning performance.
Girona continue to defy all expectations this season and will back themselves to at least remain competitive for the majority of the match. With Real Madrid possibly distracted by their Champions League priorities, Girona may provide yet another surprise result.
Will Real Madrid continue their fine form against the upstarts of Girona?
Let us know in the comments section below…
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?