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Three talking points ahead of Napoli vs Real Madrid | UEFA Champions League

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Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

A hard-fought, yet convincing win over Girona at the weekend helped Real Madrid reclaim their spot as league leaders in Spain. Their focus now shifts to defending their numero-uno position on other fronts.

The Merengues currently top Group C in the UEFA Champions League, despite a nervy game on Matchday 1 against Union Berlin. They are not alone at the top, however, with Napoli equalling their tally of three goals.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men thus face a second consecutive clash of the table-toppers, this time in Europe. On Tuesday, they will lock horns with Rudi Garcia’s men in Italy in what will be a fascinating fixture.

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

The steepest climb of them all

When the UEFA Champions League draw pitted Real Madrid against Napoli, SC Braga and Union Berlin, it became glaringly clear that Los Blancos were favourites to advance.

Yet, it was concurrently accepted that finishing first in the group would be no mean feat. Napoli, after all, are the defending Serie A champions and contenders to win it all.

It thus goes without saying that Real Madrid’s biggest challenge in the group stages will be the two games against the Italian opposition.

The first of the two, slated for Tuesday, will be the significantly more difficult outing considering that it will be held in Naples. The Stadio Diego Armando Maradona has historically been a fortress for Napoli, with fans turning up in large numbers to cheer their team.

With Real Madrid visiting the esteemed venue, one can expect a jam-packed stadium and a hostile environment for Carlo Ancelotti’s men.

The Italian champions have only lost one game all season, to Lazio at home, and currently sit third on the Serie A standings. If Real Madrid can inflict a second defeat of the season on the Naples-based side, they will be in the driver’s seat to finish on top of the group.

The forgotten one

A big night for Luka Modric. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Last week, reports of Luka Modric’s dissatisfaction at Real Madrid emerged. The Croatian star believes that he still has a lot to offer to the club and does not understand his sudden fall in prominence.

The veteran played no part in Real Madrid’s last two games. He started on the bench against Las Palmas and Girona and did not come off the bench in either fixture.

Having started just two of the team’s eight league games so far, Modric’s frustration is warranted. Yet, it could well be Ancelotti’s game plan to reserve his best weapon for the biggest nights.

If reports are to be believed, the midfield maestro will start against Napoli midweek and be the heart of Los Blancos’ midfield. Needless to say, it comes as a massive chance for the veteran to prove that he has still got the magic.

Ancelotti will likely place Toni Kroos on the bench if Modric is to start. Instead, the Croatian could link up with Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni in the middle of the park. Jude Bellingham would complete the midfield in the advanced role.

All eyes will be on Modric on Tuesday night if he is handed a start by the manager. After all, he often reserves his finest shows for the big stages.

Selection dilemmas

Carlo Ancelotti must play every card on Tuesday night with a clear plan in mind, and the starting lineup will play a critical role in the result. Yet, the manager has some straightforward decisions and other mind-boggling ones.

One of the biggest decisions Ancelotti must make for the game midweek is in the forward line. Vinicius Jr is assured one of the two starting spots in the final third, but both Joselu and Rodrygo make strong cases to start alongside the Brazilian.

The former brings a goalscoring instinct and clinical finishing to the table, while the latter promises great off-the-ball movement and the potential to unlock defences.

The obvious decision would appear to go with the Spaniard, especially considering his recent goalscoring record. Yet, rumour has it that the manager sees Rodrygo as a better option against Napoli.

The second big dilemma rests at left-back. Ferland Mendy and Fran Garcia were the two front-runners to start at defence, but Eduardo Camavinga’s start at left-back against Girona threw the equation wide open.

Ancelotti refused to rule out the midfielder as an option at left-back in his press conference, and it will be interesting to see who gets the final nod.

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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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