Xabi Alonso will make his first start of the season in Real Madrid’s short trip to take on local rivals Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, with Carlo Ancelotti set to make several changes to his side. Madrid are in the midst of a hectic run of fixtures, having followed up last weekend’s Clasico defeat with an incredible 7-3 victory over Sevilla on Wednesday. There will be little respite after the match at the Vallecas, with Madrid taking on Juventus in Turin three days later as they look to secure progress to the knockout phase of the Champions League.
“I am going to rotate the squad, but it will not be with Tuesday’s match in mind,” he said, according to Real Madrid’s official website. “We have to play with intensity and so some of the players who did not get a match against Sevilla will play.”
Alonso returned from injury by coming off the bench against Sevilla and Ancelotti confirmed that the midfielder will be in his starting lineup on Saturday. The victory over also saw a first home start for Gareth Bale and the summer signing announced himself on the Bernabeu stage with two goals and two assists. There has been much talk of how Bale would fit into the side, with Ancelotti opting for a front three of Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema on Wednesday. That meant Angel di Maria sitting on the bench, but Ancelotti was coy about whether that would continue and hinted that the Argentine could also be used in midfield -- as he is often deployed for his country.
"Di Maria can play in another position on the pitch,” he explained, according to Marca. “It's not a problem. I don't know if Bale, Cristiano and Benzema are going to play together, but the three of them are fit and available."
That array of attacking talent will likely be a daunting prospect for a Rayo Vallecano side that find themselves one place off the bottom of La Liga. After finishing in an impressive eighth place last season, it has been a real struggle this time around. A run of six-straight defeats was snapped by back-to-back wins, but they have since lost to Valladolid and Osasuna, conceding six goals in the process.
Rayo coach Paco Jemez is fully aware that his side has to improve to get anything against Madrid, but remains hopeful of a memorable win.
“We have to believe that it’s possible,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “I had a dream the other day that we beat them. I hope it comes true. To do it, we have to be perfect in terms of quantity and quality. In Pamplona on Wednesday, we have 60 percent possession and had 25 shots on target – decent figures but apart from that, we need to make less mistakes at the back and be more clinical in attack.”
Prediction: Rayo have not beaten their city rivals in the league since 1997 and it is hard to see that run coming to an end on Saturday. Jemez’s side will likely have plenty of the ball, but are also liable to leave themselves exposed at the other end. Against a Madrid attack full of pace and in buoyant mood, that is likely to prove fatal.
Rayo Vallecano 1-4 Real Madrid
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.