La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 22: Levante vs Real Madrid– Lineups, Preview and Prediction

(Photo credit: Oleg Dubyna)

19:45 GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Estadio Cuidad de Valencia (Valencia, Spain) Sky Sports Football

Having won the Segunda Division by 14 points last year, Levante started this season confidently and went undefeated in their first five La Liga matches, including impressive draws against Barcelona and Real Madrid. For much of this season they have looked set to finish in a comfortable mid-table position. 

Recent terrible form, however, has seen them plunge down the table and they currently sit just two points above the relegation places. Last week's draw against 18th-placed Deportivo La Coruna provided some respite after four consecutive losses in all competitions. The Valencian side have a tough run of fixtures ahead and need to rediscover their early season quality if they are to have any chance of survival. 

Real Madrid's domestic season is hanging by a thread. Defeat over two legs by Leganes in the Copa del Rey quarter finals was not only a humiliation in itself but also symptomatic of Real's wider struggles this season. They have had something of a resurgence in La Liga in recent weeks, first by scoring seven goals against Deportivo La Coruna before beating third-placed Valencia 1-4 last Saturday. 

The Champions League may now be Real's only realistic chance of silverware, but they have to ensure that they can keep their focus in the league lest they slip out of the top four places. 

Last Time Out

Deportivo La Coruna 2-2 Levante (La Liga)

In a match between two teams fighting against the drop, Levante secured an important away point. The visitors had the majority of the possession and created slightly more opportunities than their opponents but had to rely on a spirited late comeback to seal the draw. 

A thumping header from Adrian Lopez gave Deportivo the lead after only 19 minutes. Things got worse just before the break when Florin Andone calmly slotted in his team's second of the game. 

Levante battled hard in the second half, largely to no avail. In the last ten minutes, however, Ivi Lopez seized the game by the scruff of the neck and scored twice to draw the scored level. His second, equalising goal was a particularly brilliant effort from long-range. 

Valencia 1-4 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Real Madrid produced one of their best performances of the season to thump third-placed Valencia. The majority of the match was closer than the eventual scoreline suggests, but Los Blancos will still take a deserved amount of confidence from their win.

Two first-half penalties scored by Cristiano Ronaldo gave the visitors a comfortable half-time lead. 

Valencia looked threatening in the second-half and when Santi Mina converted a Dani Parejo cross just before the hour mark, Madrid began to look nervous. 

Real rode out some sustained periods of Valencia pressure and managed to pull away in the final ten minutes thanks to goals form Marcelo and Toni Kroos. 

Levante Lineup

Juan Muniz has not had his situation helped by the number of absentees his side has suffered this season and this weekend is no different.

Goalkeeper Raul Fernandez (hip) and right back Ivan Lopez (cruciate ligament) are both long-term injury doubts. 

Striker Alex Alegria (cruciate ligament) and left back Tono (groin) are both close to making their first team comebacks but are unlikely to feature on Saturday night.

Suspension will keep centre back Chema Rodriguez and midfielder Jose Campana out of the action.

In better news, centre back Sergio Postigo should return from suspension. New signings Ruben Rochina and Giampaolo Pazzini should also take their places in the matchday squad. 

Real Madrid Lineup

Zinedine Zidane is unlikely to change the team that performed so well last week against Valencia. 

Defender Jesus Vallejo (thigh) is the only long-term injury absentee.

Centre backs Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos are both suffering from knocks but should be available for selection. 

Isco (hip) has yet to return to full fitness but may well make the bench. 

Key Battle: Ivan Lopez Alvarez(Levante) vs Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

Ivi has made a solid if unspectacular start to his career at Levante, but suddenly burst into life against Deportivo La Coruna last weekend. When heads had begun to drop all around him, the 23-year-old striker raised his game when his side needed him most and scored the goals needed to secure what could be a vital draw. 

Against Real Madrid in September, he scored the goal that won his side an unlikely away point. They will need him to be at his best if they are to come away with anything on Saturday night. 

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(Photo credit: Addesolen)

Having endured almost relentless criticism this season, Karim Benzema has returned to the first team. When Bale returned from injury, Zidane initially employed a 4-4-2 formation with the Welshman being played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in a forward pair. 

Against Valencia last week, Benzema was restored in the centre of a 'BBC' strike force and looked to be closer to his best form. The 30-year-old is a player whose performances are heavily affected by his confidence levels. At his best he is a vital cog in the Real Madrid machine. 

Talking Points

Levante's attacking reinforcements

Only four sides have scored fewer goals than Levante this season and the club's hierarchy have responded accordingly by sanctioning moves for attacking reinforcements in the January transfer window. 

Albanian striker Armando Sadiku has moved on a permanent transfer from Polish champions Legia Warsaw. This will be the highest level of domestic football that Sadiku has played at so far in his career and the 26-year-old may need time to adjust to this level. The striker has had few opportunities in Poland this season and has only made eight starts, scoring two goals in the Ekstraklasa, Poland's top flight competition.

Levante have also secured Giampaolo Pazzini and Ivan Villar on loan deals from Hellas Verona and Celta Vigo respectively. 33-year-old Pazzini has been capped 25 times by the Italian national team and has played for both of the Milan giants. Despite coming towards the end of his career he has a huge amount to offer in terms of experience. 

20-year-old Ivan Villar provides even greater depth to the squad and the young striker will be desperate to prove himself capable of playing at this level. The Spanish youth international could be a real success at Levante. 

Juan Muniz has certainly spread his bets this transfer window, but has brought in a good blend of youth and experience that will surely make his side more competitive in the second half of the season. 

Are Real Madrid 'back'?

Having endured an awful domestic season so far, Zidane's side are seeing an upturn in their form of late. Eleven goals in their last two league games would suggest that they are playing with the need to prove a point. The title may be gone, but for a club as big as Real, restoring reputation can be just as important as league placing. 

Rumours of a big summer clear-out mean that a number of key senior players can no longer be certain of their long-term future at the club. This could lead to disinterested performances but may also see a rise in performance levels. Gareth Bale has consistently articulated a desire to stay at the club and will be playing for his place over the next few months. Similarly, Karim Benzema's long-term role will be shaped by how well he plays for the rest of this season. 

This fear of replacement may just prove to be the perfect antidote to increasing levels of complacency on show at the Bernabeu this season. 

Prediction: Levante 1-3 Real Madrid

Levante have been struggling for form recently and will find it tough to withstand a Real Madrid side who are beginning to rediscover familiar fluency in attack. Juan Muniz will surely remind his side of their early season draw against the champions, a memory of better times, but it will surely be much harder this time around. 

Can Zidane's men continue their recovery?Let us know in the comments section below...

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