On Saturday night, Real Madrid host Real Sociedad in what poses to be a tricky challenge. The Basque side sit sixth on the league standings, with 12 wins and eight draws in their 26 games so far.
However, their recent performance in big games has been far from convincing. Imanol Barrenetxea’s side received a pasting in the Basque derby against Athletic Club at San Mames before getting knocked out of the Europa League at home by RB Leipzig.
They have come back relatively strong with two wins against Mallorca and Osasuna. Yet, Ancellotti’s side will fancy their chances against the relatively out-of-form Sociedad side.
The starting XI
Fresh off their win over Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid are in good touch heading into a decisive week. Given that the gargantuan second leg against Paris-Saint Germain is only four days away, Carlo Ancellotti will have to select his lineup wisely. Moreover, the worrying injury status of key players is another factor that could influence the manager’s plans.
Thibaut Courtois will continue to start in goal for Los Blancos. The Belgian international fad a fabulous February and was also nominated as one of the players of the month. After making five key saves against Rayo Vallecano and steering his team to three points, he will look to ride on the high tide.
David Alaba missed the team’s last clash owing to a groin injury, and his place in the lineup was taken by Nacho Fernandez. The Austrian completed training with the group this week and seems set to make his comeback against Real Sociedad.
Partnering him in central defence will likely be Eder Militao. The 24-year-old centre-back has been rock solid for the men in white after a shaky start to his career in Madrid.
At right-back, Ancellotti has two options to choose from. Dani Carvajal is the first choice to start on the night, but Lucas Vasquez presents an equally strong position to compete. Given the midweek clash against PSG, the manager could opt for the latter and keep Carvajal well-rested.
Ferland Mendy has covered the left flank well this season and will continue to do the same on Saturday. The French international will be up against David Silva and Portu on his flank and will have to be at the top of his game.
In midfield, Ancellotti is faced with a dilemma. Toni Kroos missed training for Los Blancos owing to a muscular injury and is expected to miss the clash against Real Sociedad. The German is even said to be a doubt for the Champions League fixture midweek. To compound the manager’s headache, Federico Valverde continues to be unavailable.
Ideally, the coach would have liked to rest Luka Modric ahead of the PSG clash. Now, however, the Croatian’s involvement at the weekend seems inevitable.
Casemiro will be the second player in midfield, holding the fortress from a deep position. The Brazilian had a relatively poor performance against Rayo Vallecano and will look up to recoup his form ahead of the big clash midweek.
The third cog in the wheel of midfield is where the uncertainty lies. Two options stand out for Ancellotti to choose from. Isco has not played in Real Madrid’s last four games, yet, the circumstances make him a valid option to start on the night.
The more probable choice is Eduardo Camavinga. The youngster came on for the final ten minutes last week with no big contribution to the result. He could get a full start on the night.
In the attack, one can expect Vinicius Jr to start on the left flank. The young Brazilian assisted the winner vs Vallecano in addition to three key passes and two dribbles. He will be a key part of the team’s dynamics against Real Sociedad.
No Real Madrid lineup is complete without the inclusion of Karim Benzema. and the lineup is expected to be rounded up by Marco Asensio on the right-wing. The Spaniard was one of the brightest sparks on the field against Rayo Vallecano and will look to keep his good form going.
Dani Ceballos and Isco are valuable options on the bench and could replace Luka Modric in the second half.
It goes without saying that Ancelotti would like to give his forwards some rest ahead of a difficult second leg in the Champions League. Eden Hazard is an option he could consider in the second half. A similar use case could be presented for young Rodrygo.
Not to forget Gareth Bale, who could come on for Benzema in the latter stages of the encounter.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 1-0 Union Berlin
Real Madrid kicked off their UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday night with a narrow 1-0 win over Union Berlin.
The victory was deserved from the point of view of domination of play. Real Madrid were the only team attacking for large parts of the night and created chances to no end.
Yet, one must tip the hat to the visitors’ resilient defence. Playing the first UEFA Champions League clash in the club’s history is difficult enough, let alone at the Santiago Bernabeu. Union Berlin did so and with some style.
Until the 93rd minute, a draw appeared to be the most probable result. The visitors refused to cave into Real Madrid’s relentless attacks and poured their hearts out on the field.
In the end, however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men did what they do best. A last-minute winner from Jude Bellingham gave the hosts all three points.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from Real Madrid 1-0 Union Berlin.
The power of Real Madrid
Real Madrid are one of the few teams in the world that can never be written off. Such is the ability of the team, more so under Carlo Ancelotti, that they can pull off a win even after a howler.
Their unfair advantage, in part, owes itself to the ridiculous individual quality they possess on the field. Any player is capable of turning the game around with a moment of magic.
Yet, the most important factor that works in their favour is the mental resilience in the squad. Real Madrid never believe it is over until it really is, and Wednesday night’s game provided further reassurance as to why they are the mentality monsters.
For 90 minutes, the visitors frustrated Real Madrid to the limit. They stuck to their defensive lines with discipline and did not give Los Blancos much to work with.
Yet, Real Madrid’s perseverance was visible through the ordeal. The intensity of their attacks amplified with every passing minute and showed no signs of tapering down.
Poetically, they found the winning goal in the final minute of added time when all doors seemed closed, with Jude Bellingham being the hero yet again.
Forwards need to step up
The men in white had 75% of the possession on Wednesday night at Santiago Bernabeu and kept making the required penetrative attacks.
In 90 minutes, the hosts racked up an xG tally of 3.80. Yet, shockingly, they were goalless even in the penultimate minute of the game.
Real Madrid took 32 shots against Union Berlin as opposed to the opposition’s four. Seven shots were on target while 10 were blocked.
In terms of big chances, the me in white churned up five in the 90 minutes of which they missed four. They also struck the woodwork twice last night.
The team’s struggles in the final third place the spotlight on Rodrygo Goes and Joselu, who were the team’s two forwards at Santiago Bernabeu. Both players suffered disappointing nights in front of goal and just could not catch a break from their poor luck.
The Spaniard had three shots on target, five off it, and three attempts blocked against Union Berlin. All of it, however, was in vain.
The Brazilian was not much better with three shots and one blocked chance. Nevertheless, their poor results were not for a lack of trying if that is any silver lining.
Far from convincing
Real Madrid’s mentality and fortitude to push for a win is indeed a reason to be optimistic. However, that does not hide the fact that the men in white struggled and toiled on to no end.
The Champions League has no minnows, but one would expect Real Madrid to show their dominance at some point in the game and close the deal. However, that spell of play never arrived.
Los Blancos may be on a six-game winning streak so far this season, but there is reason to believe that a factor of luck has been essential for most of their scalps.
All eyes will thus be on Ancelotti now. The manager has a world-class roster at his disposal, and it will now be up to him to enhance Real Madrid’s performance in the final third. After all, putting away chances is as important as creating them.