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A matchday for gaining more than just three points

AS AS 12/04/2014 Juanma Trueba

On paper, the upcoming fixtures this week are set up for certain teams to profit. Madrid welcome second-from-bottom Almería to the Bernabéu, while their direct rivals face tricky ties, magnified by the physical pounding both took in midweek. The pursuit demands that gaps are closed, after that, with five games to go, difficulty will flirt with impossibility.

But watch out, Madrid aren’t free from distractions either, nor are they free from fatigue. The final of the Copa del Rey would explain Ancelotti’s inclusion of four players from the ranks in the squad sheet and his first-team reshuffling: Nacho and Varane come in, while Ilarramendi gets another crack at the whip. Carvajal and Xabi Alonso will miss out through suspension, and up front Isco will take Cristiano’s place as the Portugal international is due to miss his third game on the trot. The aim: win the game early on and limit any damage, a plan that, as we know all too well, gives rise to frights and bruises.

Almería are also looking towards the horizon and will aim to avoid any unnecessary suspensions – Ángel Trujillo, the only outfield player to play every minute this season, was not selected for this very reason. The absence of ‘El Camión’ (‘The Truck’) is proof that Francisco is keeping his trump cards for the upcoming visit of Celta. After that a series of fixtures to sink or swim: Espanyol, Betis, Granada, Athletic. Saturday’s game against Madrid is more of a lottery.

That said, Almería are in with a fighting chance - let’s not forget the 2-0 win over Atlético and the uncertainly that permeated around the Camp Nou until the 83rd minute (2-1 at that point, 4-1 at the end), proof that this side possesses both talent and ambition. Aleix Vidal (four goals), who muscled his way into the first team at the expense of Lucas Alcaraz, is one of Almería’s star players. Suso, loaned out by Liverpool, is another rough diamond, not to mention their goalkeeper, 38-year-old Esteban, who gets better with age and is three years older than his coach.

© PEPE ANDRES

A critical eye

The Bernabéu crowd is the third factor worth monitoring. We’ll have to see how they react after the fright Dortmund gave Madrid in the Champions League (and the semi-final draw) and how the fans react to players like Illarramendi, Benzema and Bale, all underperformers in Germany. Ancelotti’s decision not to start with Casemiro or Morata is surely to avoid pointing the finger, because it’s hard to find another logical reason.

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