Real Madrid might not have played in La Liga yesternight, but Barcelona’s loss against Rayo Vallecano certainly puts them in a favourable position for the title.
All they need to do is avoid defeat against Espanyol on the weekend, and Carlo Ancelotti would become the first manager to win a league title in all top five leagues. However, he has other business to cater to before that.
Real Madrid travel to northwest of England to take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium for the Champions League semi-finals. It is a replay of 2019/20 round of 16 where City emerged victorious.
While it would not be farfetched to consider Madrid as the underdogs in this matchup, they have used that title in the previous two rounds to pull off brilliant comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Both teams are, however, heading into this tie on an impressive run of form. Los Blancos defeated Osasuna 1-3 away from home, and had Karim Benzema not missed two penalties, it could have been much worse.
City did reach the 5-1 scoreline Madrid were aiming for, with a tremendous performance against Watford. Gabriel Jesus scored four and gave an assist in what was one of the best individual displays of the season.
Ahead of this mouthwatering clash, Ancelotti does not have all players fully fit. While they are travelling with a stacked squad, players like David Alaba and Casemiro are coming off injuries. How does that translate into the starting XI? Madrid Universal takes a look.
Alaba may have been injured through the week, but his presence in the Madrid backline is too important to ignore. He should be one of the two centre-backs in the defensive quartet, with Eder Militao likely to be the other one.
These two will be screening Thibaut Courtois, who starts in the six-yard box. The Belgian has been one of the best goalkeepers in Europe this season, and single-handedly, can make or break the game for Madrid.
While there are some concerns over Ferland Mendy‘s fitness, the Frenchman is too crucial to start from the bench in such a crucial tie. He will, in all likelihood, start at left-back.
Dani Carvajal has shown clear signs of weakness in the Champions League against the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Timo Werner in consecutive ties, but will get the nod at right-back over Lucas Vazquez.
The midfield picks itself, especially in such a high-stakes game. Luka Modric was rested for the Osasuna clash, but should return, taking up the right slot as part of the trident.
Toni Kroos came off the bench, while Casemiro was out of the game due to an injury. They will accompany Modric in an attempt to break City’s total control.
No doubts about the cente-forward as Karim Benzema will look to extend his incredible run of form. He has scored 12 goals in the UCL this season, with seven of them coming in the knockouts.
His understanding with Vinicius Jr. will be key in this game, especially with Kyle Walker injured. The Brazilian starts on the left of the front-three, and Federico Valverde will be the final piece of the puzzle at right-wing.
Predicted Real Madrid XI:
Vinicius · Benzema · Valverde
Kroos · Casemiro · Modric
Mendy · Alaba · Militao · Carvajal
Since Casemiro is not fit completely fit for the game tomorrow, one could expect Eduardo Camavinga to take his place in defensive midfield. The Frenchman has done an impressive job filling in for the Brazilian whenever possible.
Rodrygo has made his presence known for Ancelotti the previous few weeks, with four goal contributions in the last four games. He was key off the bench vs Chelsea and should get another chance tomorrow.
Vazquez could get some minutes replacing Carvajal, while Marco Asensio is a helpful presence to have off the bench, especially if Madrid is chasing the game.
Dani Ceballos‘ stocks have risen recently, and he could get some minutes to make an impact against City’s dominant midfield.
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.