Almeria face a baptism of fire upon their return to La Liga on Sunday as reigning champions Real Madrid visit the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos in the opening gameweek. The hosts finished atop the pile in the Segunda Division last term to return to the big time, while Carlo Ancelotti’s side conquered both Spain and Europe. Fourth place in 2019-20 did not cut the mustard, the same position in 2020-21 was only good enough to get knocked out by Girona in the promotion playoffs, but there was to be no denying Almeria their spot in the top tier for the upcoming campaign this time around.
Under the tutelage of Rubi, Almeria amassed 81 points in the 2021-22 Segunda Division to finish atop the pile, but they only pipped Real Valladolid to top spot on goal difference and were just one point clear of Eibar in a hotly-contested promotion race. La Union spent seven consecutive seasons in the doldrums of the Segunda Division and even flirted with relegation on a couple of occasions, but this weekend’s hosts are now gearing up for their first year back in the top division since placing 19th in 2014-15. By bringing in the likes of Kaiky, Fernando Pacheco, Houboulang Mendes and Alejandro Pozo, a healthy mix of youth and experience is at Rubi’s disposal for the upcoming campaign, and they won three of their five pre-season friendlies ahead of the visit of the champions.
The quest for a historic sextuple has already begun for Real Madrid, who placed another European trophy in the cabinet with a 2-0 success over Eintracht Frankfurt in Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup battle at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. Goals from David Alaba and, of course, Karim Benzema, got the job done against the Europa League holders as Carlo Ancelotti’s side now prepare to fight for success in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the Supercopa de Espana and potentially the latest edition of the Club World Cup, if and when that tournament gets the green light. Real Madrid would be folly not to expect Barcelona to come out all guns blazing in what ought to be a spectacular showdown for the La Liga title, with the Blaugrana investing heavily and in dire need of success to alleviate their ongoing financial issues.
Nevertheless, Los Blancos – who got their hands on the La Liga crown for the 35th time in the 2021-22 season – will feel as confident as ever heading into the new domestic year, even if their lengthy pursuit of Kylian Mbappe ultimately did not pay dividends. The visitors did only manage to win one of their final four La Liga games last term, although there was the small matter of the Champions League final to contend with back in May, and they have won each of their last five encounters with Almeria – scoring at least three goals on each occasion. Almeria head into the opening matchday without right-back Juanjo Nieto or centre-back Ivan Martos, with both defenders on the comeback trial from cruciate ligament injuries.Ferland Mendy would be a strong candidate to drop out if that is the case, while Federico Valverde should continue on the right in Rodrygo’s absence.
Midfielder Arnau Puigmal is also touch-and-go for the contest due to muscular discomfort, but the headlines in the Almeria camp are centred on star striker Umar Sadiq, who hit 18 goals and 12 assists in league action last term. The Nigeria international will be allowed to leave for the right price, and Villarreal are thought to be the frontrunners for his signature, but Rubi has confirmed that he will start the contest unless his exit is fast-tracked. Meanwhile, Real Madrid manager Ancelotti is once again blessed with a near fully-fit squad for the opening matchday, with Dani Carvajal, Reinier Jesus and Rodrygo set to be the only three absentees here. There was no space for Antonio Rudiger or Aurelien Tchouameni in the first XI during the Super Cup, but Ancelotti may consider a change or two after his side’s midweek exploits.
Almeria possible starting lineup:
Fernando; Pozo, Ely, Babic, Akieme; De la Hoz, Costa, Robertone; Portillo, Sadiq, Ramazani
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Vazquez, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr