Transfer bans, managerial changes and supposed player unrest - it's been just another few weeks in the life of Real Madrid
of late! Today, the 10-time European champions play host to struggling Sporting Gijon
. A home win looks inevitable, but football has a habit of surprising us so stay tuned!
First things first - team news, starting with the hosts...
MADRID XI: Navas; Marcelo, Pepe, Varane, Carvajal; Modric, Kroos; Bale, Isco, Ronaldo; Benzema
MADRID SUBS: Casilla, Rodriguez, Casemiro, Kovacic, Arbeloa, Jese, Danilo
Despite reports linking him with a move to the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, Toni Kroos starts in midfield for Madrid. Isco, who like Kroos has been linked with an exit, is also included. The only change from the side that thrashed Deportivo last time out has seen the injured Sergio Ramos drop out, with Raphael Varane coming into the fill the void at centre-back.
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And now for the visitors...
GIJON: Cuellar; Hernandez, Lora, Lopez, Mere; Menendez, Alvarez, Cases, Jony, Halilovic; Guerrero
GIJON SUBS: Garcia, Guitian, Carmona, Sanabria, Perez, Ait-Atmane, Ndi
There is a Barcelona player in the Gijon ranks in the form of Croatian playmaker Alen Halilovic. The ex-Dinamo Zagreb player is on loan with Gijon for the season and has impressed, despite his team's struggles for much of the season. Elsewhere, having started on the bench against Villarreal last weekend, Guerrero will spearhead the attack.
Well, it was pretty much a perfect first game in charge for Zidane. There had been speculation in the days leading up to the Deportivo clash that Gareth Bale was frustrated by the sacking of Rafael Benitez, but he showed no signs of that by scoring a hat-trick in the 5-0 demolition. There's still plenty of work for the new head coach to do, but it's a good start nonetheless.
And here is what the Frenchman had to say about this particular encounter to reporters: "We need to be on our guard because we know that we're up against tough opposition, who know how to play and who'll come here fighting. We need to make a good start and focus on the things we've worked on during the week".
"I'm not afraid of them, they're tough opposition, despite them being down there in the table. They have some good players, and we're going to have to be on our guard. I'm more bothered about what we do, but we'll have to pay attention to two or three aspect of their game. The important thing is that we all go away happy at the end of the game".
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In Sporting, Madrid are up against a side that have won just four times all season. In fact, they have claimed only one victory from their last 10 La Liga outings - a run that dates back to the beginning of December. On the road, they've won twice, scoring seven goals and shipping 17, which incidentally is one less than Madrid have conceded on their travels.
And how will they approach this match? Abelardo Fernandez was asked that question and here was his response:
"I'd park the bus, but we don't know how to play that way."
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While that sort of mentality is admirable, you have to fear for Gijon if they are going to play so openly. After all, no La Liga side has scored more home goals this season (34) than Los Blancos.
PREDICTION: So, what's going to happen in the Spanish capital today? You simply cannot look beyond Real Madrid here. That 5-0 win last time out should have done wonders for confidence levels and with Sporting potentially playing an open game, it could well be a resounding win for the hosts. Let's go for a 4-0 victory.
The players are now in the tunnel area - won't be long now until we are off and running.
KICKOFF! There's a lot of empty seats at the Bernabeu as Sporting get the action underway.
Nothing to report from the opening few minutes apart from the fact that Madrid - as you would expect - are dominating the possession. Ronaldo just went through and chipped an effort against the bar, but he was rightly flagged offside.
GOAL! MADRID 1-0 GIJON (BALE)
Unhappy playing under Zidane? No chance! The most expensive player in the world scores his fourth goal since the managerial change as he darts to the near post to flick in Kroos's corner. Cuellar come flying off his line, but was well beaten to the ball by Bale. It could be a long afternoon for the visitors.
GOAL! MADRID 2-0 GIJON (RONALDO)
It is indeed going to be a very long afternoon for those of a Gijon persuasion! Not one who likes to be outdone by his teammates, Ronaldo gets in on the act. Benzema flicks the ball into the number seven's path and he duly sends a rising shot into the top corner - Cuellar had no chance.
GOAL! MADRID 3-0 GIJON (BENZEMA)
Do not refresh your computer screens - Madrid really have scored three goals in the opening 12 minutes and what a strike this one was! Bale turns creator on this occasion as he sends over a cross from the right byline, which Benzema acrobatically sends skidding into the bottom corner. Great athleticism from the frontman and it means all three of Madrid's attackers have scored already!
GOAL! MADRID 4-0 GIJON (RONALDO)
Okay, now you have to feel sorry for Gijon - they simply cannot cope! Ronaldo gets his second of the contest and he won't score many easier goals than this. Carvajal bombs down the right wing and then slides in a low cross, which all Ronaldo has do is help into the net. Can Madrid net double figures again? At this rate, probably!
And now there's more drama, but not in the form of a goal. It actually happens at the other end of the pitch as Madrid goalkeeper Navas goes down holding his arm following a collision with his own teammate Varane. He's received some treatment and is back between the posts, but the Costa Rican still looks to be in some considerable pain.
CHANCE! How is not 5-0 to Madrid?! Ronaldo weaves into the area and then flicks the ball into Benzema's path. The centre-forward deceives one defender and a goal looks inevitable, but his powerful effort is turned over by a deflection at the final moment.
Bale's just lashed a shot from 30 yards that would have troubled the people sitting in row Z! We haven't had a goal for 14 minutes - Zidane out.
It's all gone a little quiet in terms of action at the Bernabeu. Madrid are just knocking the ball around, while Gijon look content to just concede no further goals! Very tame.
SAVE! Just as I say that, Madrid go close to a fifth, from an unlikely source as well. Kroos floats the ball into the danger area and it's chested down by Benzema for Pepe. The centre-back volleys goalwards, but it's well saved by Cuellar.
GOAL! MADRID 5-0 GIJON (BENZEMA)
Madrid do have a fifth goal and although Benzema scores it, a lot of the credit has to go to Isco. He lifts the ball over one opponent 20 yards from goal and then dinks a pass over the top and into the penalty area. Benzema is away and just beats Cuellar to the loose ball, which he prods home from close range.
There's some bad news for Madrid at the end of a great half as Bale limps off down the tunnel. It looks to be a calf or ankle injury for the Welshman. He'll be replaced at the break.
HALF-TIME: MADRID 5-0 GIJON
There goes the whistle for the break, although Gijon will no doubt wish it was for full time. They've been hammered in the Bernabeu so far and there's still another 45 minutes to go!
Remember, Bale limped off towards the end of that first half. Who will replace him? Jese was warming up, but James Rodriguez is also among the substitutes. We'll find out very soon.
RESTART! Back underway at the Bernabeu and it's Jese that has replaced the injured Bale. Penny for Rodriguez's thoughts...
While Madrid scoring five goals was great viewing at the time, it really has killed all of the intensity in this match. The hosts are controlling all of the possession, but doing very little with it.
CHANCE! An opening of sorts for Ronaldo as he's played in on the blindside by Benzema. The angle is against the Portuguese attacker, though, as shoots well wide.
MADRID SUB: Now it's Rodriguez's time to shine as he enters the action at the expense of Isco.
GOAL! MADRID 5-1 GIJON (LOPEZ)
Considering the thrashing that they took in the first half, it's hard to begrudge Gijon their goal. It's a swift counter-attack that finds Lopez at the back post and he rolls the ball inside Navas's near post. That's his first ever goal in La Liga and what a place to score it!
MADRID SUB: Some more bad injury news for Zidane to contend with as Benzema limps off with what appears to be an Achilles complaint. He's been replaced by Croatian midfielder Kovacic.
Here's a shot of Ronaldo scoring his first goal of the contest, which seems a long time ago now!
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GIJON SUB: A change for the visitors as Sanabria comes off the bench to replace Guerrero as the lone centre-forward.
Sorry for the lack of updates over the last five minutes or so, but there really is very little to report. It's like a training match at the moment, in which Madrid are just casually passing the ball among themselves.
SAVE! A first real sighting of Jese in full flow as the Madrid man dances his way into the Sporting penalty area with some good footwork. However, his shot is a tame one and easily collected by Cuellar.
There will be two minutes of stoppage time at the end of this contest - if you can call it a contest!
FULL TIME: MADRID 5-1 GIJON
There goes the final whistle at the Bernabeu, which tells us what we've known for some time - Madrid have claimed the three points thanks to a resounding win. They are now just one point behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who take on Las Palmas shortly.
Thanks for joining Sports Mole's coverage of the clash this afternoon and until next time, goodbye.