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While Spain celebrates the Three Wise Men, Real Madrid begins the frantic job of chasing down Barcelona at the top of the table with a trip to face Villarreal

While much of the world still recovers from the wildness of the New Year’s celebrations, Real Madrid and Villarreal will kick-off the 2019 La Liga fixtures with a very juicy game on Spain’s east coast.

We obviously hope you had a great entrance into the new year and that you guys didn’t break anything too valuable while feasting and jumping and drinking on January 1st. However, not everybody was wildly celebrating. For example, Real Madrid and Villarreal players had to be pretty cautious with their banquets, as they are playing a crucial game only 48-hours later.

Yes, our lovely scheduling people in La Liga decided that January 3rd would be an excellent date to play at game at Estadio La Ceramica. The only pending match of the competition to date, it was postponed to accommodate Real’s exotic trip to Abu Dhabi to easily conquer the FIFA Club World Cup against some weak opposition.

So, while fans and most players are still enjoying their holidays somehow (remember, Spain is not the ‘Santa Claus’ type, instead opening their presents on the morning of January 6th after the visit of the Three Wise Men), two squads will duke it out on Thursday with plenty on the line.

Real Madrid face a fair amount of challenges this year. Their win was more than expected in the Club World Cup, capping off with a smile a 2018 when they conquered their third Champions League title in a row but, in some way, have fallen short to compete properly both in La Liga, Copa del Rey and obviously from September onwards.

Cristiano and Zidane leaving in summer was a one-two uppercut that shook the foundations of the team. They’re not amongst the best in Europe currently. And they absolutely need to turn that feeling around.

Real Madrid looking to gain ground on Barcelona

Currently eight points away from Barça (and five from Atlético), Real definitely need the win in order to begin their hunt for the top spots. Sitting in fourth, they are only a few stumbles away from getting into deep trouble. Their task will be much harder after some bad news received earlier this week: Marcos Llorente, who was being a vital piece of the football jigsaw for Solari and the whole team, will miss this and a few other games due to a groin injury.

Marco Asensio is also absent due to physical problems, and this opens the chance of Isco Alarcón becoming the mastermind once again in the midfield. Solari has repeatedly praised the player lately and, after what seemed a lifetime of silence, the player finally spoke out a few days ago denying any chance of leaving in the winter transfer market. “I’m very happy and I want to stay at Madrid to keep winning titles”, he stated. Good news for the manager, then.

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It’s likely that Solari has remained alert during the holidays, as the stumbles of his team and the recent sacking of José Mourinho at Manchester United opened the can of speculation for quite a few days.

After his win at Abu Dhabi, though, nobody doubts that the manager, who began as an interim after Lopetegui’s dismissal, will 90% for sure finish the season helming the team. His contract ends in 2021, but we all suspect Florentino Pérez might like someone more ‘flashier’ next summer…

Regarding the home team, Villarreal have absolutely changed their pace thanks to the arrival of Luis García Plaza. It seems the Yellow Submarine has experienced a radical attitude departure from what we saw weeks ago, and optimism is now once again high in their ranks. Beating Real in front of their home crowd would be their best Christmas present for the fans.

Their excellent work in the scouting offices also might find quite the reward pretty soon, as Vicente Iborra (former Levante and Sevilla player) is set to make the switch from Leicester City back to Spain very soon.

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