Real Madrid have sold dreams to fans for several transfer windows in a row in the form of Kylian Mbappe.
The Frenchman was close to signing for the record-UCL winners in the summer of 2022, but ended up signing a contract extension with PSG for two years, with the option to extend for another season.
If that was not enough of a blow for Real Madrid fans, they also ended up losing Karim Benzema in the summer of 2023 on a free transfer.
The striker was initially in talks to extend his contract for one final season but was lured away by Saudi Arabia through Al Ittihad, who were ready to make him one of the best-paid players in the world.
Many expected Real Madrid to go for Mbappe as a replacement during the same window, as the PSG forward publicly admitted he would not be extending his contract beyond 2024.
Unfortunately, though, the club decided against making another big splurge after signing Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund for €103 million.
Eventually, Madrid decided to bring in Brahim Diaz from AC Milan after his three-year loan stint. Joselu also joined him, on loan from Espanyol, and has done rather well so far against all odds.
The Spaniard has scored five goals and assisted two in ten appearances in La Liga while averaging around only 50 minutes per game.
Tomorrow, as Real Madrid take on Barcelona for the first El Clasico of the season, Joselu could be the key to a potential win. And this is why.
Massive help for Bellingham
Jude Bellingham has proven to be a game-changer for Carlo Ancelotti, scoring eight goals and assisting two in nine appearances so far in La Liga.
All this while playing essentially as an attacking midfielder behind two forwards – Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo, more often than not.
Bellingham has taken 22 shots so far this season, out of which 18 were from inside the box. He has converted eight of those chances, with six being high-xG shots (shots with more than .35 xG).
The Englishman does his best work in terms of output when given the license to make third man runs into the box, mostly unguarded. However, at 6’1″, he is able to get the better of most defenders inside the box when challenged, too.
Interestingly, five of Bellingham’s eight goals have come when Joselu was on the pitch, even though he has been partnered far more often with Rodrygo and Vinicius as a trio.
That is for a reason: Joselu provides more balance.
At 6’3″, Joselu is able to pin defenders back and act as the target for crosses, loose balls, and long passes. His ability to dominate physical duels means one of the centre-backs always has to mark him to nullify his presence.
With Rodrygo and Vinicius, though, the balance is not the same, as their presence inside the box can be nullified without a proper nine.
While Bellingham operates in a very advanced position, he does not quite boast of the anchor play of someone like Karim Benzema, who was able to bring Vinicius and Rodrygo into the game.
Joselu does not do that very well, either, but his ability to hold up defenders and act as a target means Bellingham gets a free run into the box more often than not.
With the Englishman being the most in-form scorer in the team right now, while Vinicius and Rodrygo underperform means Ancelotti must do everything to encourage his exploits.
The Barcelona context
Barcelona have some of the best aerial defenders in the world in the form of Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, and Inigo Martinez. Luckily for Real Madrid, Jules Kounde is out injured, who has been in dominant form throughout the season.
Xavi is likely to start Joao Cancelo at right-back to add more control to the game. And while the Portuguese’ offensive capabilities are unquestionably brilliant, the defensive part of the game is far from elite.
This is where starting Vinicius and Joselu up top, with Toni Kroos in central midfield means Madrid can massively boost their scoring chances.
Vinicius could, on most occasions, get the better of Cancelo and target passes into Joselu and Bellingham. Both of them in and around the box could prove to be very difficult for even Araujo and Christensen in central defence.
Further, with Kroos in the setup, the German can target pinpoint long passes into the final third, with either of them as the target. Both of them also win second balls regularly, as was the case with Bellingham’s goal against Girona, set up by Joselu.
Rodrygo has had a subpar season so far and even though he was on target against SC Braga this midweek and enjoys the trust of the manager, Real Madrid would be better served with having Joselu on the pitch against Barcelona at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli | UEFA Champions League
Fresh off their 3-0 win against Cadiz at the weekend, Real Madrid return to the field late on Wednesday night to take on Napoli in a critical UEFA Champions League fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A lot has changed since the two teams last met. Napoli sacked Rudi Garcia not so long ago and appointed Walter Mazzarri as the new manager. The Italian got off to a great start in the form of a 2-1 win over Atalanta in his first game in the position.
Yet, he will face his first big test in the form of Real Madrid later tomorrow. The Naples-based side will have a lot to prove to their manager and the fans on the night, but it is clear that the Merengues will not treat the fixture lightly either.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli.
The headlining clash
The UEFA Champions League leaves fans spoilt for choice, for it offers the highest quality of football between some of the world’s best teams on a regular basis. The headlining fixtures begin as early as the group stages and only grow in promise as the season progresses.
When Real Madrid were drawn into Group C in this year’s UCL, all eyes were on the team that would take the next highest-seeded spot. It was eventually Napoli that made the cut, making the Spanish-Italian clash the group’s most-awaited game.
Since then, the two teams have already faced off once at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Matchday two of the competition. The clash was evenly balanced for the most part, but Jude Bellingham’s masterclass enabled a narrow 3-2 Real Madrid win.
Close to two months on, the two European giants face off once more, this time at the Santiago Bernabeu. One cannot help but call the upcoming clash the title clash of the matchday, especially considering the two team’s recent history and what rides on the result.
Real Madrid’s place in the Round of 16 was confirmed after their win over SC Braga in the last matchday. Napoli, however, are yet to secure such confirmation and a defeat tomorrow could potentially reduce their gap over Braga to one point.
Napoli thus need the win to maintain security over their qualification, while Real Madrid hope to cement their place as group leaders with a win. With both teams having a lot riding on the result, the game will have no dearth of life on the night.
Carlo Ancelotti spent many a day in the recent international break plotting means to overcome his midfield crisis. After all, he was without the services of Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga had also suffered a gruesome injury on national team duty.
The manager thus deployed his best midfield quartet for the clash against Cadiz, hoping to improve the harmony between the four stars. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde, and Jude Bellingham all started but the situation got ugly after the 38-year-old walked off injured in the second half.
Ancelotti thus now faces a bottleneck in midfield. Modric has been excluded from the squad after his latest injury, leaving the manager with just four options from the first-team in midfield. Needless to say, all four players are expected to start in Real Madrid’s 4-4-2 diamond formation on the night.
Bellingham will be deployed as the attacking midfielder while Kroos is likely to play as the pivot. The two interiors will be Dani Ceballos and Valverde, the former of whom has not started a single game all season.
The situation in midfield is thus grim, for the manager can not afford any further injuries in the department.
The man in form
The beginning of Real Madrid’s 2023-24 campaign was all about Jude Bellingham. The Englishman could not stop scoring goals for fun across all competitions and single-handedly won games even in situations where all hope seemed lost.
Rodrygo has stolen the limelight from the English protege in recent weeks, and his resurgence could not come at a better time for Ancelotti. After all, the Brazilian was enduring one of his worst-ever starts to a season but managed to find his footing exactly after Bellingham suffered the blow to his shoulder.
The 22-year-old has been nothing short of spectacular in Real Madrid’s recent games. His purple patch began against Braga when he scored once and assisted once to give Los Blancos three critical points.
In the team’s subsequent clash against Valencia, Rodrygo stole the show. In 90 minutes against Los Che, the youngster scored two goals and provided as many assists in the team’s 5-1 win. He added another two goals and an assist to his tally in Real Madrid’s most recent clash against Cadiz.
Needless to say, the spotlight will shine brightly on Rodrygo in tomorrow’s game. As the team’s most in-form player, the onus will be on him to find the required breakthroughs on the night and lead the attack from the front in Vinicius Jr.’s absence.