It might be a new year, but the same old problems exist at Real Madrid. Injuries, in-house tension and a continuous decline of standards are all present and correct. José Mourinho's controversial decision to drop club captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas in December not only backfired spectacularly, it gave credence to what we already knew: that the World Cup winner was at odds with the coach's methods. There have been further aggravations off the pitch, as the club were forced to deny that they had surveyed the club's members about the coach or members of the squad, ahead of the forthcoming elections.
Real Sociedad arrive at the Bernabéu oozing belief: "Are we confident? That's saying something when you're playing against Madrid. They are a big team. We come with confidence, yes, but also respect," remarked Xavi Prieto this week. The midfielder is right to mix self-assurance with cautionL his team are seven points better off than this time last year, though they are fully aware of the danger a wounded animal presents.
Fábio Coentrão’s indiscipline (he returned late from the winter break) adds to Mourinho’s selection problems in defence, with Pepe recovering from ankle surgery, fellow centre-back Sergio Ramos suspended and full-back Marcelo still out injured. Ricardo Carvalho is expected to make his first start for eight months, alongside Raphaël Varane, with Michael Essien continuing at right-back. Madrid-based newspaper Marca are reporting that Casillas will continue on the bench.
Asier Illarramendi remains a doubt, so Gorka Elustondo could make a return to the starting XI after more than four months out. The rest of the team should be the same as the one that won 2-1 against Sevilla.
Two goals from Roque Santa Cruz gave Mourinho a nightmare before Christmas, as Málaga beat Real Madrid 3-2, their first win over them since 1984. Real Sociedad are unbeaten in seven league games and climbed up to seventh with their victory over Los Rojiblancos before the break. They are a decent 4.45 for a double chance of either a win or draw.
History hasn't been kind to Real Sociedad in recent times when facing the Madrid giants: they have lost their last seven meetings. Their two most recent trips to the Bernabéu has seen them ship nine goals in total, whilst Real Madrid have been winning at both half time and full-time in their last three matches against Real Sociedad in all competitions. You can back the trend to continue at 1.60.
Los Blancos have scored at least two goals in 12 of their last 13 matches in La Liga, but where to stake your money? The usual suspects Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are 2.50 and 4.00 for first goalscorer respectively. For the more romantic among you, former Sociedad midfielder Xabi Alonso is 5.75 to notch a rare goal against his former team.
Diego Ifrán has talked about a desire to score important goals for Sociedad, and is 14.00 to open the scoring. Antoine Griezmann has taken a more central role this season. The Frenchman is a player for the huge occasion and a good performance here would help facilitate a big money move. He is 5.75 to score at any time.
At the start of 2013, Real must resume the tough task of reducing the 16-point gap set by the unbeaten league leaders. Madrid need to find a groove in order to generate some confidence before the Champions League resumes. They have won their last 20 at home in the league, so despite defensive frailties expect them to come out on top here at 1.18.
With a slender home win looking favourable, the the 3-Way Handicap (0-2) looks good value. For a draw it's 4.15, whilst an away win gives you 2.30.
Score prediction: Real Madrid 3-2 Real Sociedad (17.00)