Real Madrid will welcome Barcelona to the Camp Nou with open arms tonight as they look to solidify their position on top of the table. With both teams in excellent form, a win for Madrid could go a long way in raising morale, especially during the business end of the season.
However, there are a lot of concerns for Carlo Ancelotti to deal with, starting with the absence of Karim Benzema. The Frenchman picked up an injury vs Mallorca and has been ruled out of the El Clasico.
Secondly, who starts at left-back since Ferland Mendy has been sidelined as well? Marcelo offers a lot more in possession, but Nacho can do a much better job defensively against one of Ousmane Dembele or Adama Traore.
Join Madrid Universal as we try to predict how Ancelotti will plug these two holes, and others, ahead of the all-important El Clasico.
Oh-so-often Real Madrid’s saviour, Thibaut Courtois will be called into action multiple times against this Barcelona side, who have not had trouble scoring goals.
A four-man defence will be screening him, with Eder Militao and David Alaba at the heart of it. The duo was monumental during the last Clasico, held as part of the Spanish Super Cup in Dubai, and will be hoping to replicate the same tonight.
We expect Ancelotti to choose Nacho to flank the centre-backs from the left side in the hope of solidifying the defence. Dani Carvajal will start over Lucas Vazquez as the right-back.
Little to no doubts over the starting midfielders tomorrow. Casemiro has been the Clasico hero so often this season, and should get the nod at defensive midfield. He will be joined by his usual partners in what is expected to be a 4-3-3.
Toni Kroos will likely start on the left side of Casemiro, while Luka Modric will, in all probability, take over responsibilities on the other side of the midfield trident.
The biggest question is who will replace Benzema to spearhead the attacking trio. Ancelotti named five different players who could replace him, but we expect him to go with Gareth Bale as the striker.
The Welshman has been deployed there multiple times this season, and is the only one who could successfully offer the same aerial threat and ball-striking technique that Benzema does.
The left-wing is pretty much straightforward. Vinicius Jr. has been a revelation for Madrid this season with 14 goals and six assists in the league. There is no question that he will be the ‘leader’ in the attack.
The right side, however, is a toss up between Marco Asensio and Rodrygo. The latter adds defensive depth and work-rate to the forward line, but we expect the former to start owing to his goal-scoring prowess.
Predicted Real Madrid XI:
Carvajal · Militao · Alaba · Nacho
Modric · Casemiro · Kroos
Asensio · Bale · Vinicius
There is a solid possibility that we will get to see one or both of Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde come off the bench to replace the starting midfielders.
Rodrygo and Eden Hazard are the usual suspects that have come off the bench this season, and could be called upon to add more attacking depth if Madrid are chasing the game.
The same goes for Marcelo, who can single-handedly change the outlook of the game with a single cross or through-ball. He could come in to replace Nacho. And on the right side, Lucas Vazquez could be called up on to sub off Carvajal.
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.