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Hazard starts as the false 9 in a 4-3-3: How Real Madrid could line up against Barcelona

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Photo by GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images

The first El Clasico of the season is upon us, albeit in pre-season style, as defending Champions League winners Real Madrid take on a rejuvenated Barcelona.

The game will take place in Las Vegas as Barcelona pay their third friendly of the pre-season, and Madrid just their first.

While there have been claims about El Clasico losing its charm since the departure of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, this could be the start of a new battle, as two of the best strikers in the world, Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski go up against each other.

Benzema was arguably the best player in Europe last season as he led Los Blancos to the UCL and La Liga title, overshadowing Lewandowski’s incredible 48-goal season across the Bundesliga and Champions League.

Unfortunately, the Frenchman will not feature tomorrow due to an injury. It is, however, expected to be a game of two halves as both teams will switch their starting lineup entirely at the break.

Madrid Universal takes a look at how Carlo Ancelotti could set his side up for the first game since the UCL final against Liverpool.

First Half

There is no evidence of any player’s confirmed place in the starting lineup, but we expect Ancelotti to use a few big guns given the importance of El Clasico. Vinicius Jr will likely take over duties on the left-wing, while Marco Asensio starts on the other side.

There have been several reports of Eden Hazard being used as a false 9, and we expect them to come to life as the Belgian takes charge of the attack centrally.

He will be aided by Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga as the central midfielders, while new signing Aurelien Tchouameni starts as the defensive midfielder.

€100 million boy. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)

With Ferland Mendy as the only left-back in the team, he could get the nod as the starter, accompanying Dani Carvajal who starts as the right-back. David Alaba will likely partner Antonio Rudiger as the centre-backs.

Thibaut Courtois will, in all likelihood, don the gloves for the first 45.

Vinicius · Hazard · Asensio
Kroos · Tchouameni · Camavinga
Mendy · Alaba · Rudiger · Carvajal
Courtois

Second Half

At the break, we expect Rodrygo to be one of the first players in, presumably in his preferred left-wing role. Borja Mayoral has just returned from loan and could be given the keys as the striker, while Lucas Vazquez returns to his natural right-wing spot.

The midfield is heavily contested between several players, but Ancelotti will probably not want to overburden Luka Modric immediately. As such, Dani Ceballos and Federico Valverde could be the central midfield duo in at the break.

Tchouameni will be replaced by the current occupant of the no. 6 role at Madrid, Casemiro. Cannot rule out Reiner’s involvement, either, but it seems improbable he comes on right away.

Nacho Fernandez is well-versed as a left-back and will likely replace Mendy in that capacity, while Alvaro Odriozola returns to Madrid as the backup right-back.

In the heart of the defence, we will likely have Eder Militao subbed in alongside Jesus Vallejo, who will be fighting as the fifth-choice centre-back for most of the season. This duo will screen Andriy Lunin, who is expected to replace Courtois.

Rodrygo · Mayoral · Vazquez
Ceballos · Casemiro · Valverde
Nacho · Vallejo · Militao · Odriozola
Lunin

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Features

Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Valencia

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

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.

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