Real Madrid will be aiming to continue on winning ways when they lock horns with Napoli in the fifth matchday of the UEFA Champions League group stages.
The Merengues head into the game on the back of a resounding 3-0 win over Cadiz, despite having been dealing with a host of injury problems.
Even though they have booked a place in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, Real Madrid will be intent on picking up another win and not taking their eyes off the ball.
On the eve of the game, manager Carlo Ancelotti spoke to the media, addressing a number of topics, including the injuries in the squad and the managerial change at Napoli, among others.
“The match allows us to finish the group stage as leaders, where we have done very well. We want to play the best game we can. That’s the most important thing,” Ancelotti said.
Leading up to the game, it has been confirmed that Luka Modric will miss out due to an injury he suffered against Cadiz on Sunday. When asked about the Croatian, Ancelotti replied:
“To talk about the injured, I think it’s disrespectful to those who are playing. We have to think about what we have, who are contributing in a way we never expected. If we are at a high level with these problems, it means that this squad is very good, even if you don’t believe it.”
Ancelotti also reserved some praise for Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone and his longevity at the club, saying: “He is a special case, like Ferguson at United or Wenger. I congratulate Simeone for being at a club for so many years.”
When asked about his own contract renewal, the Italian replied: “I said at the beginning of the season that I don’t talk about my future.”
On the change of managers at Napoli, Ancelotti backed new boss Walter Mazzarri to do well, saying: “Their new coach, Mazzarri, is very experienced, a great friend, I think the change of coach always adds motivation to the players, which is what happened in the game against Atalanta.”
Earlier in the press conference, Dani Carvajal insisted that he wants Ancelotti to renew and stay at the club for a long time.
Responding to the defender’s comments, the manager said: “He’s right (smiles, to ask for his renewal). I have asked for Carvajal’s renewal until 2030. We have come to an agreement…. is a joke. Carvajal is an example of seriousness.”
Ancelotti was also asked if he had any advice for Barcelona manager Xavi, who is facing a lot of pressure and criticism of late. In response, the Real Madrid boss said:
“I’m not going to give him any advice. Like me, he knows football very well, there are criticisms, it can happen, it’s quite normal. Xavi has the experience to handle this world. He is younger than me and doesn’t know the environment as well, but he has all the resources to handle this situation.”
Talking about giving minutes to players who have not featured regularly, Ancelotti said: “There is a lot of talk about the youth players who don’t play and now we have to make the most of them. Nico and Gonzalo have contributed when they have played.
“Mario Martín is in the squad and Théo Zidane could be in the squad. I have a lot of confidence in that. Raúl’s work is fantastic. I have to give priority to those who have played less, like Brahim, Lucas Vázquez, or Fran García. I’m calm because the canteranos are ready to play”.
Ancelotti also praised Real Madrid’s talisman, Jude Bellingham, who has broken goalscoring records in his first three months at the club, saying:
“English players have sometimes had problems adapting to Spanish football. Bellingham is mature and a fantastic player, who adapts to any country in the world.”
Having managed a multitude of clubs in his glittering career, including Napoli and Real Madrid, Ancelotti was asked to name his best team, to which he responded:
“I don’t know. I’m very fond of Milan. Also, Reggiana when I was starting out. I don’t want to disrespect anyone by putting a ranking. That said, I have something special with Milan because I was also a player there. And also something special because simply Madrid is the biggest club in the world.”
Ancelotti also discussed Real Madrid’s goalkeeping situation, with Andriy Lunin impressing in the absence of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
“He’s not going to think that tomorrow is the last game. The day Kepa comes back he will compete with Lunin. This is what Lunin has earned by playing very well. The competition is good,” he said.
“We have two goalkeepers at a high level. Each one can contribute with their qualities.”
Ancelotti considering playing a makeshift centre-back pairing for Real Madrid against Valencia – report
Real Madrid will take on Valencia on Saturday, looking to maintain their solid lead at the top of the league table.
The Spanish giants are leading the standing with a six-point lead over Girona. A win against Valencia could help them solidify their position at the top while potentially opening up an opportunity to extend the lead to more than six points.
Heading into this game, though, Carlo Ancelotti is facing multiple setbacks, especially in the defensive unit, with Eder Militao, David Alaba and Thibaut Courtois still missing due to injuries.
This will once again put pressure on Ancelotti, as far as the team selection is concerned.
Rudiger & Tchouameni to partner at centre-back vs Valencia
Fortunately for the Real Madrid coach, much of his experimentations this season have worked, including Aurelien Tchouameni’s supreme performances at centre-back.
With that in mind, Diario AS reports Ancelotti is considering playing a makeshift central defensive pair against Valencia, comprising Antonio Rudiger and Tchouameni.
This is not the first time the young Frenchman will have to accompany Rudiger at centre-back. He did so earlier in the year when Real Madrid took on RCD Mallorca.
Interestingly, Real Madrid were able to retain a clean sheet, with Rudiger scoring the winning goal, in a narrow 1-0 victory.
What are Ancelotti’s other options?
Ancelotti will be hoping for a similar outcome this time around. However, it must be noted that the Italian will be boosted by the return of Dani Carvajal from suspension.
The veteran Spaniard can be an option at centre-back. But given the way how Tchouameni has impressed onlookers with his performances at centre-back, there is very little reason why he shouldn’t continue in the position.
Tchouameni has even been compared to Javier Mascherano by former Spanish coach Roberto Moreno.
Other than Carvajal, though, Nacho Fernandez is another option for Ancelotti. But the veteran defender is suffering with discomfort and Ancelotti has no plans to risk it.