2019-01-02 by W.M.
Villarreal vs. Real Madrid: Odds, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info | Bleacher Report
Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images
Real Madrid return to La Liga action on Thursday against Villarrreal for the first time since being crowned FIFA Club World Cup champions for a third year in a row.
Santiago Solari’s men begin 2019 in fourth place in the table, eight points behind leaders Barcelona having played a game fewer than their fierce rivals.
Meanwhile, Villarreal are enduring a difficult campaign and have spent the winter break in the relegation zone.
A point would be enough to take them out of the bottom three on goal difference, and the Yellow Submarine are unbeaten in two matches since Luis Garcia Plaza replaced Javier Calleja at the helm.
Date: Thursday, January 3
Time: 8:30 p.m. GMT/3:30 p.m. ET
TV: beIN Sports (U.S.)
Odds: Villarreal (14-5), Draw (3-1), Liverpool (17-20)
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.
Villarreal and Real Madrid will play the first La Liga match of 2019 at Estadio de la Ceramica, the game having been rescheduled due to Los Blancos’ Club World Cup commitments.
Solari’s men will have been boosted by their victory in the United Arab Emirates but must now return their focus to domestic matters and making up ground in La Liga.
The visitors will be hoping Gareth Bale can maintain the form he showed at the Club World Cup. The Wales international scored three goals in two matches and was named player of the tournament:
Gareth Bale @GarethBale11
Proud to win the golden ball and player of the tournament awards 👌🏼🔥#ClubWC https://t.co/af8GEoFZ89
Bale managed only four La Liga goals in the first half of the season, as Real Madrid uncharacteristically toiled in front of goal without Cristiano Ronaldo.
FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer
The duo of Messi and Suarez is outscoring Real Madrid 😳 https://t.co/jiTQ2W7Nr8
Solari will also have to make do without Marcos Llorente for the game. The 23-year-old has been impressive in recent weeks and scored his first Madrid goal in the Club World Cup final win over Al Ain.
However, Casemiro should start against Villarreal, as Llorente has been ruled out with a thigh problem:
Robbie Dunne @robbiejdunne
Marcos Llorente suffers muscle injury. Out for up to two weeks. https://t.co/Khkjon9WSI
Another player who will definitely miss out for the visitors is Mariano Diaz. The striker has a sciatic nerve problem and has been ruled out of Thursday’s clash, per AS.
Villarreal finished fifth in La Liga last season but find themselves in a relegation battle this time around.
The appointment of Plaza has provided optimism, and the team have responded with victory over Spartak Moscow in the UEFA Europa League and a 2-2 La Liga draw against Huesca.
The 46-year-old takes over a talented squad that has the potential to rise up the table.
Pablo Fornals offers creativity in midfield and has attracted interest from Barcelona, according to Marca (h/t Football Espana).
Young forward Samuel Chukwueze has also impressed in his six La Liga appearances. The 19-year-old is quick, good on the ball, likes to cut inside and has an eye for goal:
Scouted Football @ScoutedFtbl
Three La Liga appearances. Two La Liga goals.
28th October • Scores twice for Villarreal B
11th November • First La Liga goal
20th November • International debut
25th November • Second La Liga goal
Nigeria’s Samuel Chukwueze (19) won’t be forgetting this month in a hurry. https://t.co/YjsdjVzEpp
Both teams have looked vulnerable this season and need to start 2019 with a win for different reasons. Real Madrid will be expected to take all three points and should have the quality to pour more misery on the hosts.