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Tchouameni starts as a centre-back in a 4-3-1-2: How Real Madrid could line up against Mallorca

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

The Christmas break is finally over as La Liga has kicked off with Rayo Vallecano’s trip to Getafe. There are some big headliners over this weekend, with Villarreal taking on Valencia, while Girona host Atletico Madrid.

Amidst all of this, Real Madrid will host Mallorca at the Santiago Bernabeu in the hopes of extending their lead on top of the table. The Palma outfit are undefeated in their last six games, and will prove to be a challenge for Carlo Ancelotti.

Madrid will be without several of their key players, with both of their starting centre-backs out with an ACL tear. Ferland Mendy is out indefinitely, too. Captain Nacho is suspended and will not feature tomorrow.

With so many injuries in defence, Ancelotti only has the services of one senior centre-back in Antonio Rudiger. The German’s place in the starting lineup is pretty much guaranteed, but who starts alongside him?

Defence: Tchouameni back at CB

“I haven’t made the decision about the goalkeepers (Kepa or Lunin) because I have my doubts. Nor is it right for me to choose now for the rest of the season. I’ll take it game by game,” Ancelotti said about the goalkeeper situation at the club during his presser.

He did, however, confirm that Kepa has picked up flue symptoms, and will be out for the game tomorrow, giving Andriy Lunin the starting spot.

Aurelien Tchoumaeni played one game as a centre-back this season, against Osasuna as Madrid cruised to a 4-0 win. And while he said he was hoping to not play there again, the Frenchman is left without a choice during this injury crisis, and will start as a CB.

Antonio Rudiger‘s spot is guaranteed, and he will partner Fran Garcia and Daniel Carvajal in the backline, who will take the left-back and right-back spot, respectively.

Midfield: Kroos holds it down

With Tchouameni playing a part in the backline, and Eduardo Camavinga not fit enough yet to be a part of the squad list, Toni Kroos‘ becomes indispensable. He should be the starting pivot tomorrow in Ancelotti’s newish-look 4-2-2-2 Madrid side.

Federico Valverde will get the nod to partner him in deep midfield. He will also look to provide width at times, roving over to the right-flank, while also holding the fort defensively. Luka Modric should also be a part of this midfield, almost as a no. 8.

Madrid fans are running out of superlatives for Jude Bellingham, who has been no less than a superhero for them this season. He should be the most advanced midfielder in this system, with permission to crash the box.

Attack: Can Brahim keep up his form?

Madrid have not struggled for goals at all this season. Their forwards seem to pick up purple patch form at the right time, carrying them through difficult games.

Rodrygo and Brahim Diaz are going through an incredible spell right now, with 18 goal contributions between them this season.

The latter, especially, has exceeded expectations, with brilliant performances against Real Betis, Granada, and Napoli of late. The duo should be the starting partnership up-top for Madrid tomorrow.

Rodrygo · Diaz
Bellingham
Modric · Kroos · Valverde
Garcia · Rudiger · Tchouameni · Carvajal
Lunin

Off the bench

Vinicius Jr is back in the squad list for the game tomorrow for the first time since the 5-1 win against Valencia where he scored two. Ancelotti will show him caution, but will definitely allow 15-20 minutes to stretch his legs at the end.

Alvaro Carrillo has been called up from Real Madrid Castilla, and could get some minutes tomorrow to make his debut as his services may be required as the season goes on.

Elsewhere, Arda Guler is also part of the squad list for the game, and could finally make his much-awaited debut if his condition is considered at a 100%.

Finally, Joselu‘s entry at some point is almost guaranteed as Ancelotti looks to rest his forwards ahead of a tightly-packed January schedule.

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Features

Three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

Jude Bellingham, Vinicius Jr, Federico Valverde and Arda Guler were all on target when Real Madrid demolished Deportivo Alaves by a 5-0 scoreline midweek.

The win at the Santiago Bernabeu took the team to 93 points in La Liga, with the champion status already earned. The target now, however, is to reach the magical number of 99 points.

Tomorrow, Los Blancos step on the field for their penultimate league clash of the season as they lock horns against Villarreal.

Their opponents, currently placed eighth in the league, are fighting for a place in Europe and must win tomorrow at Estadio de La Ceramica if they are to remain in the race.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Villarreal vs Real Madrid.

Can Bellingham maintain the steam?

Jude Bellingham’s dip in form towards the end of the season raised many concerns in the Real Madrid offices over his fitness and physical state. A mini ‘pre-season’ was said to be in the manager’s plan, especially keeping Bellingham’s recovery in mind.

The young midfielder, however, started the team’s game against Deportivo Alaves once more despite rumours of him being rested and dished out a classic on the night. His performance, in many senses, was one that announced his return to form.

In 90 minutes against Alaves, Bellingham scored one goal and provided two assists as the game ended 5-0 in Real Madrid’s favour.

Furthermore, the former Borussia Dortmund star recorded a staggering 121 touches, 99 passes, six key passes and created one big chance. He also completed four dribbles on the night and participated in eight defensive actions.

It thus becomes a serious question ahead of tomorrow’s clash as to how Carlo Ancelotti plans on managing Bellingham’s minutes.

The obvious approach would be to field the youngster from the start and reward his improved performance at the weekend. Concurrently, however, there is concern over the midfielder being overused which inhibits the manager from such a move.

Will Bellingham start against Villarreal or will the likes of Brahim Diaz or Arda Guler get a deserved start? Only time will tell.

Lunin’s heroic exit

Thibaut Courtois’ injury before the commencement of the new season left Real Madrid with a crisis in goal. The repercussions of the blow, however, were not as dire as expected courtesy of Andriy Lunin’s exceptional performances.

Lunin could play his final game of the season vs Villarreal. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Despite starting the campaign behind Kepa Arrizabalaga on the pecking order, the Ukrainian international has done enough to become the team’s primary goalkeeper across all competitions.

Only Courtois’ return last month displaced him from the starting lineup as the manager prioritised bringing the Belgian superstar back to full fitness.

Real Madrid now plan on starting Courtois for the big UCL final at Wembley next month.

While unfair on Lunin who deserves the start, one cannot blame Ancelotti for relying on the player who single-handedly kept the team in the game the last time they featured in a European final.

With Courtois set to start against Real Betis and Borrusia Dortmund, tomorrow could well be Lunin’s final game of the season for Real Madrid and the 25-year-old will look to depart with a bang.

Momentum is paramount

Real Madrid have already been crowned the champions of La Liga, and every game that remains in the competition at this point only serves as a practice encounter for the big challenge that lies ahead.

Los Blancos take on Borussia Dortmund in the finale of the UCL early next month, and only two games remain before the season-defining encounter. A lot, needless to say, will depend on how Ancelotti manages his squad for the two matches that lie ahead.

Considering that the calendar is no longer as hectic as it was a month ago, the manager could well field his best XI against Villarreal aiming to keep the momentum going for his side. After all, it is paramount at this stage in the season.

At the same time, however, the manager must rotate his squad ahead to give fringe players some deserved minutes and balance the playing time of regular starters.

Los Blancos, at this point, are unbeaten in 23 games across all competitions and have the momentum fairly on their side. Maintaining it with a positive result tomorrow irrespective of the final decision on the extent of rotations will thus be crucial for the Merengues.

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