Struggling Real Madrid play the first of three successive matches against Valencia looking to establish a lead in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal.
Madrid may well be glad to get away from La Liga competition, where their poor season continued with a goalless draw against bottom-of-the-table Osasuna on Saturday. Currently sitting a mammoth 18 points behind league leaders Barcelona, their chances of retaining their title now appear all-but nonexistent.
Winger Angel di Maria admits that the Copa del Rey has taken on extra importance as they seek to secure a trophy from a difficult campaign.
“We know it's a very important match for us because the league will be hard to win,” the Argentinean revealed, according to Real Madrid’s official website. “The Copa del Rey and the Champions League are two very important goals for the remainder of the year and we want to try to win them."
Madrid will at least be boosted by their ability to count on talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, after the club’s top scorer was absent with suspension at the weekend. His importance to the team has been more apparent than ever in recent weeks.
“When Cristiano plays there is an obvious difference, he is a very important player and it always shows when he is not playing” Di Maria said.
Madrid boss Jose Mourinho will still be troubled at the back, though, by an injury to Pepe and suspension to Sergio Ramos. Antonio Adan’s availability after suspension will again lead to a debate over whether Mourinho opts for Adan or Iker Casillas in goal.
In contrast to their opponents, Valencia have been in impressive form since Ernesto Valverde replaced Mauricio Pellegrino—winning seven of their last eight matches in all competitions.
Valverde will be without captain David Albelda after the veteran midfielder suffered a calf injury in Saturday’s 2-0 triumph over Sevilla. Also missing will be attacking midfielder Sofiane Feghouli, who is preparing for the African Cup of Nations.
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Arbeloa, Varane, Albiol, Coentrao
M: Khedira, Alonso
Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo
D: Pereira, Costa, Raimi, Guardado
M: Parejo, Banega, Costa
F: Jonas, Soldado, Piatti
Prediction: Valencia’s previously dreadful away form has been much improved since Valverde took charge and they will likely be confident of staying in the tie heading back to the Mestalla next week. But given Madrid’s own poor away record, they will surely be keen to establish a first-leg advantage.
With Ronaldo back in the side, Madrid should have enough to take the advantage.
Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia
Where to watch: The Copa del Rey quarterfinal first leg will kick-off from the Bernabeu at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.