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Stronger in the face of adversity: Real Madrid’s brilliance in defence leading La Liga title charge

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Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

It is almost astounding that Real Madrid have two of their four centre-backs out with ACL injuries at this point in the season. Yet, that has been the story of the men in white’s defence this season and Carlo Ancelotti has been forced to dig deep into his resources.

It all began with a painful cruciate ligament injury to Eder Militao on match-day 1 of La Liga. Antonio Rudiger, Nacho and David Alaba did well to cover for the injured Brazilian, but the latter suffered the same fate last month.

Clicking the numbers

Having lost one of their first-choice centre-back early in the season, many expected a visible decline in Real Madrid’s defensive numbers across all competitions. Alaba and Rudiger were after all a relatively untested combination with little guarantee over their partnership.

Militao will miss most of the season. (Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet, Ancelotti’s men boast of some of Europe’s best defensive numbers this season. The players in white have stepped up as a group to compensate for their deficits, and the numbers say it all.

Real Madrid have conceded just eleven goals all season in La Liga and seven goals in six UEFA Champions League appearances. Notably, the next best figure in the league belongs to Las Palmas who have conceded 17 goals.

At 0.57 goals conceded per game, the Merengues stand third-best in all of Europe. Only Nice (0.52) and Inter Milan (0.44) boast of better numbers.

The turning point

While Real Madrid’s defensive numbers are very impressive, one must remember that they did not get off to the best of starts in the opening games of La Liga. The Galacticos conceded seven goals in their first six games, with the lowest point arriving in the 3-1 Madrid derby defeat.

Everything changed after the defeat to Atletico Madrid. Since then, Carlo Ancelotti changed his defensive setup into a dynamic with two rows of four players and two free players up front who are free to apply pressure.

After the derby, Los Blancos have only conceded five goals in thirteen matches, testament to their brilliance. The diamond system, needless to say, has fit them well.

The goalkeeping brilliance

Much like how Real Madrid’s centre-backs stepped up after Militao’s injury, the goalkeeping department has witnessed some miracles this season. Thibaut Courtois’ injury was expected to be a big blow to the team’s plans, but both Kepa Arrizabalaga and Andriy Lunin have stepped up to the occasion.

The Ukrainian star ranks second in all of Europe in terms of saves made per 90 minutes at a stunning 83.33%only behind Yann Sommer (84.31%). Kepa is not far behind as he sits tenth with 78.79%.

It is thus not an understatement to call Real Madrid’s backline their biggest asset heading into the business end of the season. If the defence holds the fortress with such consistency and resilience, one can trust in the forwards to deliver the winning blow game after game.

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MU Shorts

Tchouameni, Bellingham start in a 4-4-2: How Real Madrid could line up against Bayern Munich

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Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

Real Madrid will face their biggest fixture of the season later tonight when they lock horns with Bayern Munich in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

Having already won the Spanish Super Cup and La Liga, Los Blancos will be eager to take a step closer to lifting the Champions League crown as well.

The first leg, played in Germany, ended in a 2-2 draw leaving the tie nicely balanced as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich battle it out for a spot in the finals, where Borussia Dortmund await.

Heading into tonight’s clash, Real Madrid have only one injury-enforced absentee in the form of David Alaba.

Having made plenty of rotations to the team for the weekend La Liga clash against Cadiz, Carlo Ancelotti will name his strongest possible lineup at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight. And here’s how Real Madrid could take the field against Thomas Tuchel’s men.

Starters

Even though Thibaut Courtois is fully fit and made his first appearance of the season this past Saturday, Andriy Lunin has more than earned his spot in the lineup and will start in goal, as confirmed by Carlo Ancelotti yesterday.

Dani Carvajal is back in the squad after missing the first leg through suspension and is certain to replace Lucas Vazquez at right-back tonight against Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, Ferland Mendy will occupy the left side of the defence.

Antonio Rudiger is a certainty to feature at the heart of the defence but Ancelotti has a dilemma as far as the German’s partner is concerned.

But with Eder Militao still not back to his best and Nacho Fernandez not looking all too secure in the first leg, Aurelien Tchouameni could be asked to fill in at centre-back by Ancelotti.

Tchouameni could start at centre-back. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

In that scenario, Eduardo Camavinga becomes an automatic starter at the base of the Real Madrid midfield, where he will partner Toni Kroos, who was one of the Merengues’ best players from the first leg.

In somewhat of a tweaked setup, Ancelotti’s permanent fixture, Federico Valverde will line up on the right side of the midfield four, while Rodrygo Goes is likely to occupy the left flank – a position from where he has been quite effective in recent times.

It would mean that Vinicius Jr. would play in a more central role on the night against Bayern Munich, with fellow key man Jude Bellingham providing the Brazilian superstar support in the attacking line.

Substitutes

Luka Modric is a certainty to come on at some point in the second period for Real Madrid if he does not start against Bayern Munich. The Croatian has showcased good form in recent games and can impact the proceedings.

Brahim Diaz is also someone that Carlo Ancelotti counts on regularly from the bench and that is unlikely to change. Nacho Fernandez could be an option if Real Madrid wish to shut up shop at the back.

On the other hand, Joselu could be an alternative in attack to provide a different kind of threat in and around the Bayern Munich box.

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