Modric, Valverde start in a 4-3-3: How Real Madrid could line up against Manchester City
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 Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid | La Liga
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat against Barcelona on their first trip to Spotify Camp Nou after more than a year.
The Catalans had not won against the Merengues at home since 2018 ahead of the game but a clutch goal from Franck Kessie helped them turn around the record.
Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early in the game by forcing an error and own goal from Ronald Araujo. The hosts levelled the score in the 45th minute through Sergi Roberto, before the winner arrived in stoppage time.
The game was not without its share of controversy as Real Madrid had a goal disallowed for offside that Ancelotti felt was unfair. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from the fourth Clasico of the season.
1. Quality of full-backs
Real Madrid have etched their names into history as one of the most deadly counter-attacking teams in world football. Their pacey transitions and shifts of play have traditionally progressed through the wing with unreal speed to catch the opponent off-guard even in a momentary lapse in concentration.
Needless to say, the full-backs have always worked in tandem with the team’s wingers to make such speedy counters possible. The glaring problem at Real Madrid currently is that their full-backs do not provide half as much as they need to.
Los Blancos’ counterattack now seemingly consists of only Vinicius Jr on the left wing making a quick transition to find Karim Benzema. With just one outlet, it is difficult for the men in white to be effective.
The story at Spotify Camp Nou was very similar. Dani Carvajal started as the right-back and had a good showing defensively. Yet, he was virtually absent in the final third and left Real Madrid’s right-wing lifeless. In ninety minutes, he managed no crosses or long balls and had just one key pass.
The story at left-back was equally, if not more abysmal. Nacho Fernandez was the candidate deployed in the position and could also not manage a single cross, long ball or key pass on the night. He was eventually substituted for Ferland Mendy but the Frenchman could not do much either.
The difference in the quality of full-backs between Barcelona and Ancelotti’s side is gaping. The Catalans blazed through the wings on the night with Ronald Araujo and Alejandro Balde who constantly got forward in attack to stretch the men in white. In response, Real Madrid had nothing.
2. A dead right-wing and lack of intensity
It is imperative for any top football team to have the resources to attack both wings, for it is the constant switching of play that triggers errors from the opposition. For a club like Real Madrid to not have such resources is criminal.
The game against Barcelona was completely predictable given that the Merengues’ right wing was nonexistent. Any attack, almost surely, had to come down Vinicius’ wing and this made Barcelona’s defensive work easier.
Dani Carvajal was barely involved in the final third against the Catalans. That, coupled with Federico Valverde’s atrocious showing as the right-winger removed one side of the field from Real Madrid’s game.
Valverde made just 27 passes in 76 minutes and failed to make a single cross on the night. Further, he recorded just one key pass and one accurate long ball in El Clasico.
When Marco Asensio came on for Los Blancos, the equation completely turned around. The winger came on as a direct replacement for Valverde and happened to score the disallowed goal that was millimetres from giving Real Madrid three points.
More importantly, the move for the aforementioned goal was completely down the right flank, a testament to the alarming situation.
3. Goodbye La Liga?
When the clock at Spotify Camp Nou struck 81 minutes, the race for La Liga seemed to be on. Real Madrid had just scored a possible winner and had cut short their deficit with Barcelona to just six points.
Ten minutes later, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of the hosts. Their lead atop the league standings was suddenly twelve points with just 12 games to go.
History is witness that counting out Real Madrid does not fare well. However, it is difficult to surpass the supposition that the 12-point gap is too wide to bridge.
Los Blancos will continue to fight in the league, but Ancelotti will likely preserve his weapons for the UEFA Champions League where they face a bigger chance at glory.