La Liga’s weekend starts earlier than usual, with in-form Real Madrid’s trip to struggling Almeria brought forward to Friday night due to Los Blancos’ World Club Cup commitments in Morocco next week.
The two teams could not come into the game heading in more different directions.
Tuesday’s 4-0 stroll past Ludogorets confirmed Madrid as the only side with a 100 per cent record in this year’s Champions League group stages - and was also a Spanish football record 19th consecutive victory in all competitions.
24 hours earlier Almeria had been getting hammered 5-2 at Eibar, meaning they had taken just two points from their last eight Primera Division games. That snapped the patience of the Andalucian club’s board, and brought the sacking of Francisco as coach.
Watch the highlights of Real Madrid 4-0 Ludogorets:
In team news, Madrid have no new injury concerns, but existing problems elsewhere means the midfield will certainly be Toni Kroos, Asier Illarramendi and Isco. Gareth Bale suffered a sore nose against Ludogorets but should be fine to start up front alongside Cristiano Ronaldo - who has just the 28 goals in 19 Liga and Champions League games this term. Sergio Ramos is suspended for an accumulation of bookings, but Pepe and Raphael Varane should be secure at centre-back.
Almeria’s line-up is much less certain, as youth coach Miguel Rivera is on caretaker duty for this game. Ex-Levante and Valladolid boss Juan Ignacio Martinez has been named as the new long-term coach, but he will not formally take charge until afterwards. On loan Espanyol striker Thievy is their most dangerous attacker, but can be as erratic as he is inconsistent.
Under Francisco, Almeria had been tough to beat at the Estadio Juegos Mediteraneos, and were leading Barcelona 1-0 at half-time a few weeks ago before a Luis Suarez-inspired turn around saw the game end 1-2. They also impressed tactically during a narrow 0-1 reverse at home to Atletico Madrid in September. But no wins and only five goals in seven home games is not good, and helps explain why the club’s board felt they had to act.
“It is the same as always,” said Blancos coach Ancelotti at Thursday's pre-game press conference. “They are a team which are fighting. Every time there is a change of coach the players have more responsibility. It will be an intense game. Madrid are playing well, we have recovered well from Tuesday and everyone is ready.”
So this really looks about how many Madrid can win by. Although injuries and tiredness have meant their style has been less swashbuckling of late, they have still been ahead at both half time and full time in 10 of their last 11 matches in La Liga. Their record against Almeria is also pretty good - at least four goals scored in their last three meetings in all competitions. The context means they might not match that total again on Friday night, but they should come close.
Predicted result: Almeria 0-3 Real Madrid at odds of 7.50
Best bet: Over 1.5 goals first half at 1.98 at odds of 1.96