The biggest clash of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 is undoubtedly the face-off between Real Madrid and PSG. Both sides lead their respective leagues and promise to put up a gargantuan performance to seek a place in the Quarterfinals.
Los Blancos have been dealt with a big injury blow ahead of the critical clash. Karim Benzema’s absence is the reason for the club’s recent dip in form. Though initially thought to be a minor problem, the player has taken longer than expected to recover.
Now, his place in the starting lineup against PSG is in doubt even though Benzema traveled with the team.
The most tempting option for Carlo Ancelotti will be to deploy Gareth Bale as the central striker with two wingers to complement him. Vinicius Jr has earned a permanent spot on the left-wing, but the right-wing is where the manager needs to make a decision.
The combination of Vinicius – Bale could be completed by either Marco Asensio or Valverde. The Vinicius-Bale-Asensio lineup seems to be the way to go, but the latter’s tendency to disconnect from the game can be a real worry. Yet, the Vinicius-Bale-Rodrygo lineup has its vices too as the latter struggles with his decision-making in the final third.
The third possibility would be to drop Bale and play Asensio as the central striker with the two Brazilian wingers, namely Vinicius and Rodrygo on either side. This formation will prove to be very dynamic, but seemingly lacks a finisher who can make runs.
The last option at Ancelotti’s hands is the trio of Vinicius – Hazard – Bale. In this case, it is the unclear form of the Belgian that proves to be a drawback.
It remains to be seen as to which trident the manager opts for on the night. The Parc des Princes will not be an easy venue to walk away with three points. Needless to say, the front three will have to be the X factor on the night.
Three talking points ahead of RCD Mallorca vs Real Madrid
Real Madrid have seldom struggled against RCD Mallorca in recent years. The men in white have scored a whopping 15 goals in their last four games against the Palma-based side and their last loss versus them came back in 2019.
If this season’s numbers are anything to go by, however, it would be wrong to overlook Javier Aguirre’s side. Mallorca have won seven of their nineteen La Liga games so far and sit in tenth place with 25 points.
While they have not scored a lot this campaign, they have conceded the fourth-least goals in the Spanish top flight and have an excellent defensive record.
Real Madrid play Mallorca before Barcelona’s game on Sunday and have a chance to reduce the deficit at the top of the table to two points temporarily if they can win at Son Moix.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Mallorca vs Real Madrid.
1. Tchouameni time again?
Aurelien Tchouameni spent close to a month on the sidelines after hobbling off injured in Real Madrid’s clash against Villarreal last month.
In the defensive midfielder’s absence, Carlo Ancelotti was forced to patch the void with unconventional options including Dani Ceballos, Eduardo Camavinga and Toni Kroos as the pivot.
The Frenchman finally made his awaited comeback to the squad in the team’s game against Valencia midweek. As he was returning from a relatively long time on the sidelines, Ancelotti preferred to have him start on the bench.
Tchouameni eventually entered the field in the 66th minute of the game when Toni Kroos asked to be substituted out for precaution. In his 24 minutes on the field, the youngster was almost flawless with 97% passes completed and 100% accurate long balls.
As Los Blancos gear up to play their second game in three days, the time could be right to re-incorporate the 23-year-old into the starting lineup. After all, Tchouameni has been one of Real Madrid’s most consistent players this season and it is glaringly clear that they have missed him in recent weeks.
2. Two more casualties
The men in white produced 90 minutes of high-quality football against Los Che on Thursday and reduced the gap with Barcelona to a mere five points. However, the cost of the win was far more than what the manager would have liked to pay.
In return for the three points, Real Madrid saw Karim Benzema and Eder Militao leave the field with injuries to rub salt into Ancelotti’s fresh wounds.
The captain is expected to miss the next two games at least, leaving his team once again without a central striker. In Benzema’s absence, Ancelotti will have to put on his thinking hat and field a forward line that not only creates threats but also has the cutting edge to convert them.
Militao is also unavailable for Sunday’s game. With the Brazilian centre-back ruled out, Real Madrid will likely field a combination of Antonio Rudiger and Nacho Fernandez against Mallorca. After all, David Alaba is also returning fresh from injury and might not be fit to start the game.
3. Can Camavinga convince again?
It is almost criminal that a club of Real Madrid’s stature do not have a natural backup for the left-back position.
Ferland Mendy has been Ancelotti’s most preferred position in the player throughout the season. David Alaba was seen as a possible backup option, and though the Austrian International is capable of playing that role, he does not fancy the left-back position anymore.
When Mendy limped off injured in Real Madrid’s game against Atletico Madrid, Eduardo Camavinga thus emerged as a surprise option to fill his shoes. The youngster started the next two games at left-back and did a reasonable job, even earning praise from the manager.
With Tchouameni back running for the Merengues, the left-back role is the only available vacancy for the French International to claim a starting spot.
With Alaba returning, if Camavinga wishes for continuity as a starter, he must produce another exceptional display on Sunday and stake claim as the left-back until Mendy returns.