Real Madrid played their last league game of the 2022/23 campaign just under 70 days ago. They faced Athletic Club de Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu in a gruelling game that was drawn only thanks to a penalty from Karim Benzema.
The encounter marked the end of many storylines for Los Blancos. The most significant of them all, however, was that it was Karim Benzema’s final game in white.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are now gearing up to play their first official game without the French superstar. Incidentally, it is once again the same opposition that they face.
There is a world of difference between the Real Madrid that faced Ernesto Valverde’s side 70 days ago and the team that will step onto the field tonight. The only target will be to better the 1-1 draw that they managed last time around against the Basque opposition.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Athletic Club vs Real Madrid.
Objective La Liga
Real Madrid are the undisputed kings of Europe. In the past decade, they have conquered the pinnacle of football a stunning five times including their most recent scalp in 2021/22.
Their record in La Liga is not nearly as impeccable. Real Madrid have 35 league titles to their name, yet have won it just four times since 2009.
To conquer Europe but not Spain is a reflection of Real Madrid’s relative inability to maintain consistency through the season. They are capable of pulling their guns out on demand in knockout games but often fall short in La Liga through momentum swings.
As they prepare to step onto the grass for a new campaign, it is clear that La Liga will be one of their key objectives.
Last year, Carlo Ancelotti’s side finished second in the league standings with 78 points to their name. They won 24 games and lost a staggering eight matches in the domestic competition.
Eventually, Los Blancos fell short of Barcelona’s tally by ten points and have no one but themselves to blame for the same.
Tonight, the men in white begin their new season with a difficult clash at San Mames. With La Liga placed as one of their top priorities, they must get off on the right foot against Athletic Club.
Ancelotti’s million-dollar question
To say Karim Benzema was the heart of Real Madrid’s setup in recent years would be an understatement. The French striker single-handily carried the team game after game at times and was their primary protagonist in the forward line.
His departure leaves a void that simply cannot be filled by tactical adjustments. Real Madrid are a club that look to capitalise on the break, and their chances of doing so drop significantly without a central striker.
Ancelotti has been forced to switch to a 4-4-2 diamond system in lieu of Benzema’s departure, and tonight’s game will be the first time the combination is tested in an official game.
Aurelien Tchouameni is expected to start at the base of the diamond with Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga playing in central midfield. Jude Bellingham will likely sit behind the forward duo of Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes.
There are thus some big questions to be answered by the men in white. Can Vinicius recreate his magic in a central role? Is there too much pressure on Bellingham? Will the 4-4-2 at least partially fill the void left by Benzema’s departure? Only time will tell.
A goalkeeping crisis
As if the variables in Ancelotti’s setup were not enough, Thibaut Courtois’ ACL injury adds a new cloud of worry ahead of the season opener.
The Belgian shot-stopper is set to undergo surgery and will likely miss the entirety of the 2023/24 campaign for his recovery. Real Madrid are now dangerously vulnerable in the back.
For starters, the shift to a 4-4-2 inherently increases the pressure on centre-backs. With the champion goalkeeper now ruled out, Real Madrid could be in for serious trouble in defence.
The Merengues are working hard to sign a replacement, with Kepa Arrizabalaga said to be on his way. But, Andriy Lunin will start in goal on the night, staring his career’s biggest opportunity in the eye.
The Ukrainian international has been at the exit door for a while now. He was frustrated by his lack of minutes at the club, but things are different now with Courtois facing a lengthy time on the sidelines. And he will look to make the most of his chance tonight.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Las Palmas | La Liga
The heartbreak at Civitas Metropolitano saw Real Madrid drop down to third on the La Liga standings for the first time this season. They now sit on 15 points from six games, only one point behind leaders Barcelona.
Yet, there is barely time for the team to recover. Less than 72 hours after their defeat, the Merengues play host to Las Palmas in the seventh Matchday of La Liga in a tricky fixture.
Garcia Pimienta’s side have improved leaps and bounds in recent times, although their start to the new season has been far from positive.
Las Palmas were winless in their first five league games but picked up a first win in their most recent outing against Granada.
With the visitors coming off their first win and the hosts their first loss, it will be interesting to see how the game of momentum plays out.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Wednesday’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu.
The important reaction
Having secured six wins in six games under their belt, the threat of breaking the moment was always lurking around the corner from Real Madrid. After all, their wins to that point were not always convincing.
Jude Bellingham’s magic, Joselu’s constant threat and the talented midfield helped Los Blancos on their way to scrappy wins over the weeks. Yet, it was always glaringly clear that they had deficiencies in defence and the final third.
All of Real Madrid’s troubles came to the forefront on Sunday and were left glaringly exposed. The end result was a defeat that left a bitter taste in the mouths of players and fans.
Despite facing their first setback of the season, however, the men in white have no time to lament. After all, the hectic schedule leaves them little time between games.
It is thus of utmost importance that Real Madrid does not slip into a vicious state of negative momentum. As they face off against Las Palmas midweek, Carlo Ancelotti’s side needs a strong and dominant win to keep spirits high.
Considering that they will be back at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid will be the favourites by far on the night. Nevertheless, there will be pressure on the players to take all three points.
Limelight on the manager
The aftermath of the defeat to Atletico Madrid sent ripples through the Spanish media. It was reported that the Real Madrid board was not entirely happy with the list of ‘sins’ committed by Ancelotti in the clash at Civitas Metropolitano.
It thus goes without saying that the limelight will be on the manager on Wednesday.
For starters, the Italian gaffer must get the starting lineup right and not go overboard with his rotations. Aurelien Tchouameni is a must for the Merengues’ defensive efforts and must be introduced back into the lineup midweek.
Moreover, there will be pressure on him to revert to the winning 4-4-2 diamond formation featuring two natural forwards including a striker.
With Joselu returning to the lineup, Jude Bellingham must shift back to his more comfortable attacking midfield role.
Moreover, the manager must strike the right balance between youth and experience, for both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric can no longer start together.
Perhaps the most important job Ancelotti is faced with, however, is in defence. Both David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger appeared lost in the last game, and it remains to be seen if the manager ropes Nacho Fernandez in to strike a better dynamic.
Return of the magician
While Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao are amongst Real Madrid’s most valuable players, it is Vinicius Jr’s injury that hit the club the hardest.
The Merengues unfortunately have a very thin and fragile forward line this season with just three players competing for two spots. Of the three names, Vinicius is the single most important one.
The Brazilian star may not have started the 2023-24 season at his optimal level considering his altered role in the new formation. Yet, he is the Merengues’ most lethal weapon to break open defences and create chances.
The men in white have had problems since the Selecao star hobbled off the field injured against Celta Vigo.
Their games against Getafe and Union Berlin were both down to last-gasp winners, while the defeat to Atletico Madrid showed everything wrong with the team.
Vinicius Jr is set to make his return in tomorrow’s clash at Santiago Bernabeu, and there could be no better news for Ancelotti.