Two teams with the same problem: a systematic inability to win away from home. This propensity shared by Real Madrid and Sevilla tips the scales in favour of the home side when the two meet at the Bernabéu on Sunday evening. Sevilla arrive in the capital in good cheer, ticking over nicely in the league and in Europe, but with a raft of players out of commission. In order of importance to Unai Emery’s side: Ever Banega (suspended), Vitolo, Micahel Krohn-Dehli, Steven N’Zonzi and Yevhen Konoplyanka (injured).
They are five of the nine players used most regularly by Unai Emery this season in Sevilla’s up and down season, during which the side have been rock bottom of the league and spent the last eight weeks in fifth, where they are now closer than ever to the Champions League, five points adrift of Villarreal. However, the exertions of the squad against Basel oblige Emery to rest some of his healthy players.
Coke is likely to come in and Emery will shore up his midfield with Sergio Escudero playing inside and Vicente Iborra in the middle. The incognito is whether Kevin Gameiro will play, the Frenchman being somewhere near the limits of his resistance. It will be tempting for Emery to deploy him: Gameiro has scored 21 goals this season. But he has carried the weight of 42 games in his legs. Emery may opt for Fernando Llorente, a striker of a different texture but who has scored more goals against Madrid than any other player in the squad (8). Cristiano Ronaldo has hit 21 against Sevilla.
Madrid, apathetic in La Liga, have found a small measure of self-help along the way: the possibility of overtaking Atlético. It won’t count as a trophy but it will appease the Bernabéu crowd, who are in need of consolation. At home under Zinedine Zidane, Real have been flawless: 29 goals in seven games, at a rate of more than four per match. Ronaldo has scored 12 of those.
Pepe and Sergio Ramos are both suspended so Zidane will have to form the centre of his defence with Nacho and Raphael Varane. That’s where Madrid lose out. Zidane will hope he wins out after resting Danilo, James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos in Las Palmas. Not guilty by association with that performance, the three should start. And as the league for Real Madrid is now the forming ground for the cantera, Casemiro and Lucas Vázquez may also get another chance to impress from the off. Karim Benzema is fit again after playing just 45 minutes in the last month. Logic dictates that Zidane will synchronize the BBC ahead of more important matches to come, with the Bernabéu halfway between anger and watchfulness.