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Rival watch: Barcelona suffer shock loss vs Almeria, Real Madrid stay seven points behind

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Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Following Real Madrid’s failure to defeat a ten-man Atletico Madrid side on Saturday, there was a lot of concern among the fanbase as the La Liga title seemed to be slipping out of their hands for good.

The 1-1 draw against the Rojiblancos meant that Real Madrid were seven points off league leaders Barcelona. And the gap could have widened to ten had the Blaugrana beaten relegation-battlers UD Almeria today.

But, in a shock twist, Xavi Hernandez’s side suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Almeria away at the Power Horse Stadium.

Coming on the back of a defeat to Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Barcelona looked fatigued and off-colour from the start. And the hosts capitalised on the league leaders’ lack of intensity to take the lead through El Bilal Toure.

Almeria held their shape and defended in a disciplined manner even as Barça struggled to create any dangerous opportunities as the match ended 1-0 in favour of the newly-promoted La Liga side.

Barcelona’s shock defeat means that Real Madrid continue to trail them by seven points. While the gap is still wide, the slip-up does provide Carlo Ancelotti’s side some hope that the title race is not all done and dusted.

This result also makes the Clasico on March 19 at Spotify Camp Nou even more crucial for both teams.

But before that, Real Madrid will face Barcelona next week in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Real Madrid News

Ancelotti’s dilemma: How will he handle a fully fit defense next season?

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Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti, is set to face a challenging situation in restructuring his defence for the upcoming season and that is largely down to key players like David Alaba and Eder Militao are returning to full fitness. 

Interestingly, this situation might put Antonio Rudiger’s spot in the starting lineup under significant pressure.

Back when Rudiger joined Real Madrid he was supposed to strengthen a defence already featuring Alaba and Militao. Despite their young age, these two had firmly established themselves in the team. 

Over the past two years, however, Ancelotti has consistently relied on the duo, with Rudiger and Nacho serving as their main substitutes. 

A big decision awaits Ancelotti

As the new season approaches, Ancelotti faces a dilemma similar to the one he had with goalkeepers Andriy Lunin and Thibaut Courtois. A similar situation is likely to unfold with Rudiger and Militao vying for the right centre-back position.

It must be remembered that Militao suffered an untimely injury last season, prompting Ancelotti to choose Rudiger over Nacho, who, although right-footed, is also adept on the left side. 

Carlo Ancelotti needs to assess his defensive duo for next season. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)

As the season progressed, Rudiger proved his worth, becoming a mainstay in the defense. His physical strength, bravery, and aerial prowess made him a reliable choice. 

His ability to play out from the back earned him the respect and confidence of his teammates, overshadowing Militao’s absence.

Rudiger’s importance has grown

Rudiger’s importance grew further when Alaba got injured in December. He became the cornerstone of the defence, often partnering with Nacho or Aurelien Tchouameni. Even when Rudiger played on the left side, the defensive structure remained solid.

When Militao returned in the last month and a half of the season, he struggled to regain his previous form. The long recovery period left emotional scars, and he was not the same player he had been before the injury. 

Consequently, Ancelotti opted to keep Rudiger in the lineup for crucial matches towards the end of the season.

With the new season on the horizon, Rudiger’s strong performances will present a significant challenge for Ancelotti. 

As Alaba also returns from injury, Ancelotti will have to decide who among Rudiger, Militao, and Alaba will be benched. 

Rudiger has proven his capability, often outperforming the Brazilian, whose post-injury form is still uncertain. 

Adding to the competition, Real Madrid might sign Leni Yoro and even Rafa Marin could return from his loan spell which could further complicate Ancelotti’s decisions.

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