Real Madrid are all set for their La Liga curtain-raiser. The team will take on Athletic Club de Bilbao tomorrow at Estadi San Mames in a clash that has not proven easy in recent years.
Of their last three meetings with the Basque side, Los Blancos have won, drawn, and lost one each. Playing against Ernesto Valverde’s side at their fortress will not prove easy.
Carlo Ancelotti spoke to the media ahead of his team’s season opener and covered a plethora of topics including Thibaut Courtois, Andriy Lunin, and the formation. Here is the summary of his press conference.
The Italian gaffer began by addressing the elephant in the room – Thibaut Courtois’ injury and the need for a new goalkeeper. He insisted that he maintained full confidence in young Andriy Lunin to take over and urged him to make the most of his chance.
“We give all the confidence in the world to Lunin, who is a great goalkeeper. In the pre-season, he did well. Total confidence in him, we think he is a talent. What he lacks is what everyone lacks, the experience, but he will take it little by little.”
Ancelotti then highlighted the mood in the Real Madrid camp after learning of the Belgian’s potentially season-ending ACL injury, saying:
“Emotionally it has not been a good day yesterday, we are sad on a personal level, it is an injury of an important player, but these things happen in football. We wish Courtois a speedy recovery.”
The coach, however, projected that he was not very worried by Courtois’ injury, presumably to encourage Lunin and instil faith in the youngster.
“First thing I thought when Courtois got injured? That Lunin was going to play. We have to look ahead. I never worry about those who can’t be in a game, we wanted to convey confidence to Lunin.”
The manager was then quizzed about the possible incorporation of a new goalkeeper. He once again maintained that he trusted Lunin, but did not close the door to a new arrival.
“The confidence is total in Lunin and in the next few days we will see if we sign one more goalkeeper to the squad.
“We have time until the 31st, the goalkeepers behind Lunin have potential, but they are young. We will think about it. Fran [Gonzalez] is 17 years old , if we do sign someone we will do it for the squad depth, because we have confidence in Lunin.”
Finally, Ancelotti gave his two cents on what he looked for in a shot-stopper.
“Stopping with his hands. First stop… what I ask of all the goalkeepers. That they are good with their hands… and with their feet, it’s better to have a striker.”
The flow of the interview then shifted onto Real Madrid’s dynamics and formation ahead of the curtain-raiser. After all, the drastic squad changes have forced Ancelotti to venture into new avenues.
“We are going to play with the same desire and the same hope of being able to compete. I think this pre-season has shown that we can play in a different way,” the manager said when asked about the tactical aspect.
He also added a brief comment on the various formations he had in mind and the need to transition between setups based on the situation.
“We have almost always used the diamond, where things have gone well, in the defensive profile we have to work on it. There won’t be a single system. We can also use 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with two pivots, I don’t bet on a single system.”
The Italian tactician then addressed the team’s resources in the final third, clarifying that he was satisfied with the depth in his arsenal. He also had encouraging words for Joselu and Brahim Diaz.
“In the pre-season, we scored many goals and created chances, the problem has been defence. There has been a lack of success, the striker still does not have freshness in the summer, but upfront we are very good, we have options.”
“Joselu is very good in the area and Brahim between the lines can give solutions,” he added.
Ancelotti then outlined his recent meeting with the referees where he was briefed on the new rules ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.
“We talked and I think it has been a very positive meeting. After explaining the new rules, which are not much more. We may have more time added and we have to get used to this. I think that now everything is clearer.”
“It has been clear that the referees have had too much use of VAR because they have to enter less. The referee is a judge who has to be calm to make the decisions.”
“The role of the referees is to protect the player and the image of football.”
Ancelotti then revealed that he was not very worried about the team’s relatively poor defensive record in pre-season and pushed his side to work as a unit tomorrow.
“It’s what worries me the least because it’s not a quality problem, it’s sacrifice, concentration. This week we have managed the pressure better. We can evaluate the work done better tomorrow.”
The Italian then gave an update on Arda Guler, who will undergo surgery for his meniscal injury later this week.
“If he goes to the operating room, the recovery time is very short. Arda’s problem is very small and I think he can be recovered very soon. I can’t go into details for privacy.”
During the interview, he also closed the door to any new centre-forward signings and affirmed his faith in the existing players.
“I don’t think so because as I have always said, I am very satisfied with this squad. I have seen something very good and they are all very plugged in. We have the illusion that we are going to fight throughout the season.”
Ancelotti’s press conference concluded with him being asked to reveal the goal targets he has set for Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes ahead of the new season.
“Goal challenge for Vini and Rodrygo? They have to continue with their progression. How many goals? I don’t know, I think we have a team with many options because there are several that can contribute goals (Vini, Bellingham, Rodrygo, Kroos…). We have many options,” he said, not giving too much away.
Source: Real Madrid website
Bellingham on his special assist in Girona 0-3 Real Madrid: “Been watching Luka every day”
Real Madrid usurped the top spot in the La Liga standings from arch-rivals FC Barcelona as they defeated Girona 3-0 away at Estadi Montilivi.
It was a fine performance from Carlo Ancelotti’s men against Michel’s side, with the returning Jude Bellingham leading the way for his team.
After being benched against Las Palmas in midweek, the England international returned to the starting XI today and turned in yet another Man of the Match display for Real Madrid.
It all started with Joselu opening the scoring just 15 minutes into the game, with Bellingham assisting the goal with a special, outside-of-the-boot pass from the left side, bringing back memories of Luka Modric doing something similar a few years ago.
Talking about that special pass, Bellingham said: “I’ve been watching Luka every day for months. I just want to be creative. It took the pressure off us at the start.”
On the match and the result, the 20-year-old stated that it was a good day across the board for Real Madrid, as he said: “It was an important win. They were doing very well. We made a statement of intent to La Liga. Three goals, a clean sheet….”
It has been a truly remarkable start to life at Real Madrid for Bellingham and expressing how he feels to play for the Merengues, he exclaimed:
“I feel very good. I have freedom of movement and I’m enjoying football. Whenever I put on this shirt I always try to do my best.”
Apart from assisting Joselu’s opener, Bellingham also got his name on the scoresheet in the second period. Talking about his goal, the wonderkid said:
“It wasn’t a very good finish. I could have scored some more, but the important thing is the victory.”
The strike meant that Bellingham now has seven goals and two assists across all competitions for Real Madrid. Reflecting on his brilliant start, he said:
“It’s a good start, not bad. I would like to continue on this path and I won’t always score or assist, but I will always give my best.”
Bellingham’s celebration has been a huge hit, with kids in school, players from other clubs, and many others mimicking it. When asked how his special celebration originated, he replied:
“I don’t know where I first celebrated. I think it was with Birmingham. It’s an inspiration to see kids doing it in schools. It’s a wonderful thing.”