After the battle with Manchester United, Real Madrid now play a match in the Bernabéu with a perfect storm waiting on the horizon for them. After tonight they head to the Riazor (Saturday 23), play the second leg of the Copa in the Camp Nou (Tuesday 26), host Barcelona (Saturday 2) and travel to Manchester (Tuesday 5). That is, four games in 10 days, two of them do or die; four rivals, all of them with a knife between their teeth.
Faced with such a potent panorama Real Madrid would have been delighted to be facing the Red Cross Nurses team, but alas the League doesn't work like that. Instead it's Rayo Vallecano who come to the Bernabéu, and they are a team in form, in the European positions, encouraged by their latest win, over Atlético, and coached by stylishly effective Paco Jémez. The complete opposite to a relaxing bubble bath.
To make things even more difficult Madrid will be playing without Özil and Xabi, out injured, and Arbeloa, Modric and Higuaín, out suspended. We would be talking about an experimental side if it weren't for Cristiano, who turns any team into a winning side. And Cristiano plays. Let's see if he repeats his magic trick of floating up to the height of the floodlights to head the ball home.
Amongst the obligatory readjustments (Sergio Ramos out wide, Essien and Khedira in the midfield) the highlight is probably Kaká starting. The Brazilian shone in the last league game against Sevilla and some maintain that he will continue to blossom, like a magnolia in spring, as the Brazilian World Cup draws nearer.
While Madrid test the effectiveness of a system without two theoretically fundamental pieces (Xabi and Özil) Rayo will attempt to show that their bet on attacking football can also pay-off in the Bernabéu.