Having taken one step in the right direction with their comeback win against Villarreal, Carlo Ancelotti must ensure that his men do not take two steps backwards when they lock horns with Athletic Club at San Mames.
The Galacticos are still reeling under an acute injury crisis with several regular starters ruled out. Aurelien Tchouameni, David Alaba, Lucas Vazquez and Daniel Carvajal remain unavailable for selection, but Luka Modric returns to the squad after being rested for the last game.
A tough schedule lies ahead for Los Blancos and only good form and chemistry can take them through unscathed. Many of Ancelotti’s decisions on Sunday, thus, will depend on what he saw against Villarreal as he looks to sharpen his side.
Madrid Universal brings you an overview of how the Italian manager could play his cards at San Mames when Real Madrid face off against Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club de Bilbao.
Thibaut Courtois has little to feel happy about this season. While he has been top-notch yet again personally, his defence has let him down time and again. The Belgian will continue to start when the men in white take on Athletic Club on Sunday night as he desperately hunts for positives to cling onto.
David Alaba’s unavailability in the squad leaves Ancelotti with no option but to start Antonio Rudiger and Eder Militao in central defence. Luckily for him, the duo are beginning to strike up a good partnership and will hope to keep a clean sheet on the night.
Ferland Mendy is set to start at left-back as he faces the fearsome prospect of locking horns with one of Nico Williams or Inaki Williams. The Spanish duo are two of the league’s most lethal players on their day and promise devastating pace and agility.
Both Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal are unavailable for the game at San Mames, putting Ancelotti in a tough spot like in the previous game. Given that Vinicius Tobias is not in the squad, Nacho Fernandez seems to be the chosen one to play at right-back.
Dani Ceballos dished out a special cameo as a substitute against Villarreal. When the team stared at an uphill battle, he came up clutch with an assist and match-winning goal to take the team to the next round and could deservedly start against Athletic Club.
Eduardo Camavinga is also in contention to start again after a largely solid display vs Villarreal, but Ceballos continuity would not be surprising.
Ancelotti could opt to turn to his veterans again to complete the midfield. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will look to use their experience against the veteran double pivot of Dani Garcia and Mikel Vesga, who tormented Real Madrid in their last meeting.
Vinicius Jr was one of the biggest talking points ahead of the Villarreal clash. The Brazilian International was seemingly struggling for form after the World Cup but stepped up at La Ceramica to score Real Madrid’s first goal of the night. Still fresh from his revival, he will look to keep up his good rhythm.
Karim Benzema was abysmal when Real Madrid needed him the most against Villarreal. The Frenchman contributed very little over 90 minutes and had just one shot and zero dribbles on a night when his team were chasing a two-goal deficit. The Ballon d’Or winner will thus look to be the protagonist tomorrow and look to lace up his goalscoring boots.
The final place in attack sees heavy competition. Federico Valverde, Rodrygo Goes and Marco Asensio all make strong cases to start, but one would expect the latter to get the nod after his solid midweek cameo.
Despite being harsh on Eduardo Camavinga in terms of controlling his minutes and taking him off prematurely, Carlo Ancelotti maintains that the youngster is untouchable at the club. It is clear that the manager values his profile, and will surely give him minutes in the La Liga clash.
Federico Valverde suddenly finds himself in a bearish period after an incredible run of form that saw his stocks break the roof. He will come on in the second half to improve the tempo and inject firepower in the final third.
Rodrygo’s substitution has become a common ritual in Real Madrid games this season, and it is almost taken for granted that the Brazilian features in every game. He, too, will be called upon in the second period.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Valencia
For all the institutional and sporting catastrophes Valencia suffer from, they put up a resilient show against Real Madrid last month and held them to a draw in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup.
Having fired Gennaro Gattuso less than 48 hours ago, Los Che will be under the command of an interim coach at Santiago Bernabeu in the hope of repeating their feat from Saudi Arabia.
After all, they are struggling this season with just 20 points in 18 league appearances.
Valencia may not be the top team it used to be a couple of seasons ago, but there is a fighting spirit to the squad that makes them special.
As Real Madrid looks to make amends for their dropped points against La Real, some important considerations cross the manager’s mind regarding the clash against Los Che.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Valencia.
1. More names at Ancelotti’s disposal
Real Madrid’s long injury list has been a thorn in Carlo Ancelotti’s feet for a long time now. While the manager has had close to five players unavailable through fitness concerns, two names were considered irreplaceable.
Daniel Carvajal is the first on that list. The Spanish International’s presence gave the club hope after Lucas Vazquez’s injury last month, but almost as if planned, the 30-year-old immediately suffered a blow in training and was forced to sit out.
For four games, Ancelotti was thus forced to field Nacho Fernandez as his right-back. The centre-back did a good job at covering out of position, however, will be pushed back to the bench on Thursday as Los Blancos celebrate the return of Carvajal.
The defender is not the only one making his way back, as Aurelien Tchouameni also received the medical all-clear earlier this week.
The French pivot hobbled off an hour into Real Madrid’s league clash against Villarreal in the first week of January and has been sidelined for close to a month.
His absence pushed his coach to try numerous permutations in midfield, but it was finally Eduardo Camavinga who stamped his authority on the position.
With Tchouameni back roaring, his place in the starting lineup seems to be written in stone. One can expect the Frenchman to be deployed alongside Toni Kroos and Dani Ceballos for his return to action on Thursday.
2. Concern shifts from right to left-back
The Merengues will finally have a natural right-back available to play against Valencia midweek. However, that does not signal the end of the Italian tactician’s trouble-riddles period.
Just when one full-back position returned to a state of normalcy, Real Madrid now have a crisis at left-back.
Ferland Mendy picked up a thigh injury earlier this week and will miss the team’s next two months of action at least. To say that this is a big blow to the club’s plans would be an understatement, for Mendy was the only natural left-back available in the squad.
David Alaba would appear to be the best-placed alternative, but the Austrian is ruled out through injury himself. Placed at a lack of options, Ancelotti confirmed in his press conference earlier today that Eduardo Camavinga would play there against Valencia.
The youngster has played in the defensive position earlier but will face the heat going up against Jose Luis Gaya at Santiago Bernabeu.
Given that Valencia’s right flank put up a memorable display when the two teams met last month, one can be certain that Camavinga’s performance can make or break Real Madrid’s night.
3. No margin for error
Less than halfway through the league season, Los Blancos already find themselves five points behind Barcelona. The wide gap is not a consequence of the defending champions’ poor form but the sheer consistency of Xavi Hernandez’s men, who cannot stop winning.
Having won the Supercopa de Espana last month, the Catalans are currently riding high on confidence. With their season heading from strength to strength, Real Madrid must hold on and wait for the right opportunity to topple the tables.
The Galacticos‘ draw against Real Sociedad added two points to the gap between the top two sides last week. At this stage, Ancelotti’s men cannot afford any further slip-ups for a larger gap would be too much for the men in white to compensate.
Every game henceforth will be a final for Real Madrid in La Liga. Three points are the bare minimum the club can walk away with from any fixture, and that mission will start from their game against Valencia.