It's been a rather frustratingly stop-start beginning of the season for Spain's two traditionally dominant teams, allowing Villarreal to assume a surprise spot at the top of the table after seven matches. Real Madrid will look to bounce back from two consecutive La Liga draws to dethrone the interlopers on Saturday, when they welcome struggling Levante to the Santiago Bernabéu.
On paper, Levante don't seem to stand a chance. They picked up only their first win of the season -- rather bizarrely against Villarreal -- just before the international break, and still find themselves down in the bottom three. It's looking increasingly like it could be a very long season for the Valencian outfit. However, with Madrid still stuttering at the start of Rafa Benítez's tenure, as well as suffering injuries to a handful of key first-teamers, they could well prove to be rather more stubborn than anticipated.
Key matchup: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. José Morales
Of course, when you've got Cristiano Ronaldo, it often doesn't matter that the rest of your team are injured or off-form. The Portuguese winger remains a player capable of turning a game in an instant, and has already chipped in with five goals so far this season. In this game his direct opponent will be wing-back José Morales, whose communication with right center back Juanfran will be key as Levante attempt to keep one of the world's best players out of the game.
Rather unsurprisingly, Real Madrid quite enjoy playing against Levante. They've won each of the last seven games between these two sides, and the last three with a combined aggregate scoreline of 10-0. Indeed, one must go back to 2007 for the last time Levante won away at the Santiago Bérnabeu, when Fabio Capello's side conceded an early penalty and never managed to equalize. Fortunately they still went on to win the title, though saw off Barcelona on tiebreakers alone. Phew.
Real Madrid injuries and suspensions
Out: James Rodríguez, Karim Benzema (thigh); Dani Carvajal (ankle); Luka Modrić (knee). In doubt: Pepe (knock).
Levante injuries and suspensions
Out: Ángel Trujillo (eye); Rubén García (knee); Iván López (collarbone). In doubt: Verza (thigh); David Navarro (unspecified).
Real Madrid are currently going through something of an injury crisis by their standards, with striker Benzema, midfielders Rodríguez and Modrić and defender Carvajal all out.
Meanwhile, Levante will be without defenders López and Trujillo, as well as García. His midfield counterpart Verza is a doubt, along with defender Navarro.
Match Date/Time: Sat., Oct. 17, 10 a.m. ET, 4 p.m. local
Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
TV: beIN Sports (US and Canada - English), beIN Sports en Español (US and Canada - Spanish)
Online: Fubo TV (US) beIN Sports Connect (US and Canada)