Real Madrid will lock horns against RB Leipzig in the first leg of the 2023/24 Champions League round of 16 tomorrow. Coming off a spectacular 4-0 win against Girona at the Santiago Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti’s team should be in high spirits for the matchup at the Red Bull Arena.
They have, however, lost Jude Bellingham for the next fortnight or so, as the Englishman picked up an ankle injury in this encounter. The Englishman is expected to make it back for the second leg, but has not been included in the travelling squad list for the first one.
And as far as Leipzig are concerned, they currently sit sixth in the Bundesliga table, having won 11 of their 21 games so far. They are in far from their best form, as well, having won only one of their five games after the winter break.
They should be taken seriously still, having won four of their six games in the Champions League group, and were only trumped by defending champions Manchester City on both occasions.
Ahead of this huge clash in Real Madrid’s favourite competition, Madrid Universal takes a look at how they could lineup for the encounter.
Defence: Nacho returns to central defence
With Thibaut Courtois still out for the rest of the season, Ancelotti has seemingly chosen Andriy Lunin as his first-choice goalkeeper, with Kepa Arrizabalaga being relegated to the bench after a series of unimpressive showings.
Antonio Rudiger will be unavailable for this game, and for the next couple ones, too, which leaves Nacho as the only senior-team centre-back in the squad. While he missed the Girona win, the Spaniard should take his place back in the back-four tomorrow.
His return will also allow Daniel Carvajal to return to his favourable right-back position, while Aurelien Tchouameni retain his spot alongside Nacho.
Fran Garcia should be the final piece of the puzzle despite Mendy’s solid display on the weekend, primarily to exploit the space Bundesliga teams generally leave behind on the wing.
Midfield: No changes in the trident
Post half-way through the season, Ancelotti also seems to have stumbled upon the best midfield combination for Real Madrid. We presume this trident to continue vs Leipzig.
Toni Kroos is expected to start as the holding midfielder in this setup. The German has been unplayable over the last few games, and there should not be any doubts about his spot in the XI.
Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde will be the remaining two midfielders in the centre of the park, playing as the no. 8s.
This trio allows the seamless shuffle of players, with all three having played in both defensive and offensive roles across their careers.
Attack: Brahim replaces Bellingham
Carlo Ancelotti has a fair few ways in which he can replace Jude Bellingham in the starting lineup, including using Joselu as the striker, and two wingers.
However, it would be unfair to not start Brahim Diaz, who has made the most of his playing time so far at Madrid. Playing as the secondary choice player in attack, the Spaniard has ten goal contributions in just over 1,100 minutes so far, averaging close to one every 90 minutes.
Rodrygo and Vinicius were both on target against Girona, with the latter particularly putting up one of the performances of the league season so far.
The Brazilian duo should form the attacking pairing playing ahead of Diaz, who will start in the no. 10 role.
Off the bench
Joselu missed the penalty to give Madrid the fifth goal in La Liga on Saturday, but will continue as one of the first players to get subbed off the bench — that is, should he not start in the first place.
Luka Modric and Arda Guler are in contention to get some minutes, as well. The former’s game-time has decreased in recent weeks, but he is still undoubtedly an integral member of the squad.
With Bellingham out of action, Dani Ceballos could also be called on to add creativity and retention the midfield.
Finally, Ferland Mendy is definitely in contention to come on in the second-half, especially if Madrid need to defend the lead at any point.
Real Madrid 1-0 Sevilla: Player Ratings
Following Barcelona’s convincing 4-0 win against Getafe yesterday, the onus was on Real Madrid to reinstate the eight-point gap between the sides as they hosted Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu today.
Lucas Vazquez opened the scoring for los blancos after ten minutes, but the goal was controversially disallowed for a foul on Youssef En-Nesyri in the build-up.
Madrid found it difficult to unlock Sevilla’s defence after that, with the first-half ending 0-0 after just one shot on target from both teams combined.
Madrid started the second 45 with more intent, creating some better scoring opportunities, but were left without success until an unbelievable effort from Luka Modric scathed the post and went in.
Sergio Ramos put in a wonderful performance on his return to the Santiago Bernabeu for Sevilla, but it was not enough as Madrid escaped with all three points and an eight-point lead on top of the table.
Andriy Lunin: 8
Was not called into action in the first-half, and was pretty much faultless in possession. But made an incredible save off Romero’s effort in the second half and was extremely proactive collecting crosses, too. Game-changing.
Lucas Vazquez: 7
Did a good job overlapping and was unlucky that his goal was disallowed. Did well to deal with Romero and Ocampos defensively.
Antonio Rudiger: 6.5
Rudiger was lucky that Romero and En-Nesyri did not convert their efforts from close range, as he often left space in behind. Went up to attack with the score at 0-0, too, but came back fruitless.
Was substituted off after 75 minutes after an mostly average display. Again, lucky that he was not punished for the space he left behind.
Ferland Mendy: 7
A few decent moves for Mendy today, but for the most part, his inability to overlap properly gave Vinicius too much to do.
Federico Valverde: 8
By far the most active midfielder today, Valverde was everywhere. Ran the show for Madrid, both in possession and stopping counter attacks before they even started. Missed the easiest chance of the game, though.
Aurelien Tchouameni: 6.5
Did his job as the 6 well, kept the game ticking and kept finding the spare man in midfield. Moved back to the defence eventually, and came away with a clean sheet.
Toni Kroos: 7
With Madrid struggling to break through Sevilla’s defence, Kroos was tasked with a lot of deep progression. Created some tame chances here and there, but failed to find properly find a man through.
Brahim Diaz: 7.5
Kept Kike Salas and Ocampos on their toes, making some tremendous solo runs from deep, but was often left without support. Created a brilliant chance for Valverde, that was scuffed.
Did not take many risks in possesion, but was crucial in Vinicius and Brahim finding space on the wing by offering support.
Vinicius Jr: 7.5
With the Sevilla defence looking very organised, the onus was on Vinicius to create something out of nothing. He attempted a few different things, including flicking the ball over players and attempting shots from distance, but all unsuccessful.
Has to be credited for the effort, though, especially with the rest of the team lacking.
Luka Modric: 8.5
Super-sub Luka Modric coming in clutch for Madrid today with his wonder goal from outside the box. Was also brilliant in possession, increasing the tempo of the game.