NINE of Mark O’Haire’s (@MarkOHaire) 15 European NAPs have won this season. Can he kick-off 2017 in style on Saturday?
Real Madrid v Granada | Saturday 12:00 | Sky Sports 2
Real Madrid claimed FIFA Club World Championship honours in Japan before Christmas and with a three-point cushion atop of the La Liga standings, Los Blancos fans were feeling pretty pleased with their work in 2016.
Head coach Zinedine Zidane celebrated a year in charge of the capital club this week and during his stint Los Merengues have managed to win more trophies (3) than suffer defeats (2), a quite remarkable statistic.
Of course, Real haven’t been obliterating teams in that time but it’s hard to whinge and whine too much when you consider the club remain unbeaten in league action this term and have claimed seven triumphs from their last eight.
Zidane’s men returned from their short winter break in superb style, overcoming Sevilla 3-0 in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey last 16 clash despite the absence of a number of first choice players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas.
Ronaldo, Benzema and Navas are all expected to return to the fray for Saturday’s midday kick-off but with Ramos banned and Pepe a major injury concern, Zidane might need to field his second-choice central defenders.
Madrid have kept just one clean sheet at the Bernabeu all season and only three shutouts in their last nine encounters without captain Ramos at the back. In fact, the hosts have silenced only four opposition sides this season and that opens up opportunities for lowly Granada to grab a goal.
Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score is the bet that stands out at 13/10 (William Hill) – it’s already proven a profitable formula in seven of Real’s 11 La Liga wins this season, including five of their eight Bernabeu outings.
Indeed, Los Blancos have delivered the goods in this market in seven of their past eight when welcoming bottom-six clubs too – five of which arrived in six games under Zidane’s watch.
Bale remains absent and with Lucas Vazquez also injured, James Rodriguez should get another opportunity on the right-hand side of the attack as Real search for a 19th home victory in 22 La Liga matches whilst also attempting to extend their record-breaking unbeaten streak to 39.
Granada cable of a goal
Visitors Granada sit second-from-bottom and three points adrift of safety. Lucas Alcaraz’s outfit avoided defeat in four of their final six 2016 games (W1-D3-L2) but their road record remains dreadful – it’s W0-D3-L5 this term and 16/27 (59%) defeats since the start of last season.
The Andalusians have been beaten by two or more goals in nine of their last 11 trips to either Barcelona or Real Madrid but their knack for getting on the scoresheet can’t be ignored.
The visitors have fired a solitary blank in eight away days this term and have been involved in 18/27 (67%) successful Both Teams To Score selections since the beginning of 2015/16.
Expect Ukrainian forward Artem Kravets to lead the line and although midfielders Angban and Mehdi Carcela are away on international duty, the likes of Isaac Cuenca and Jeremie Boga offer enough in a possible 4-5-1/4-3-3 approach to cause Madrid’s weakened backline problems.
Real Madrid v Granada – Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score (13/10 William Hill)
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