On Sunday night, Real Madrid will step onto the grass one last time in Riyadh with the hope of lifting their second trophy of the season. To do so, they will have to put up ninety minutes of their finest football, for they will have to overcome Xavi’s Barcelona to be crowned champions.
Los Blancos have been far from their best in recent games and required penalties to reach the final. While Barcelona also took a similar route to the ultimate clash, the same conclusion cannot be drawn as to their form.
The Blaugranas got the better of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at Civitas Metropolitano just last week and even dominated Real Betis for a large part of the semifinal. They are the current leaders in La Liga and sit three points clear of Real Madrid.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of the Clasico that will decide the Super Cup champions.
1. Weathering the storm
It is rare for Real Madrid to get into a negative zone. Every time the men in white appear down and out, they seem to find a way to gather their resources and dish out a special performance.
The men in white struggled in their game against Villarreal last week and got completely outplayed by Quique Setien’s side at La Ceramica. The world expected a statement in their subsequent game against Valencia, but nothing separated the two sides even after 120 minutes.
Despite their relatively poor form this month, Carlo Ancelotti’s men managed to secure a final berth in the Supercopa de Espana and face off against their arch-rivals in Sunday’s game.
If there is to be a statement comeback performance, this would be a perfect time. Los Blancos are a side to rise to the occasion, and the spotlights of a final could bring out their best.
For starters, a win over the Catalans would secure the Merengues’ second trophy of the season. More importantly, it would boost the team’s morale ahead of the second half of the season and push them to come back stronger in the league.
2. Can Vinicius strike gold?
It is not surprising that Vinicius Jr has critics aplenty. The Brazilian’s on-field antics make him the ideal target, with many just waiting for him to put one wrong step.
The youngster has struggled for form since his return from Qatar, and just two games in already finds himself at the receiving end of a severe backlash.
He managed just two shots and zero dribbles in Real Madrid’s clash against Villarreal last week in addition to missing one big chance. The situation did not improve in his most recent game either, as he recorded similar numbers in 120 minutes on the field.
To make matters worse, Vinicius’ record in recent Clasicos has been substandard. Playing against Barcelona in pre-season, the 22-year-old struggled to get past Ronald Araujo throughout the game. In his most recent Clasico, he had just ten passes in 90 minutes despite his Uruguayan nemesis’ absence.
Needless to say, Vinicius has a lot to prove on Sunday night. He is expected to start and go head-to-head against Araujo again on the left flank in Riyadh. Given his history of stepping up on the big stages, one can expect the Brazilian to leave his mark on tomorrow’s game and silence his critics.
3. Injury riddled
Carlo Ancelotti has no shortage of problems ahead of the crucial encounter on Sunday. If the form of his side was not concerning enough, he will be without the services of several key stars.
Aurelien Tchouameni and David Alaba are both unavailable through relatively long-term injuries and thus, did not travel with the team to Riyadh.
To rub salt into the wound, Lucas Vazquez sustained an injury in the semifinal midweek and is set to sit on the sidelines for the foreseeable future. Daniel Carvajal will certainly start against Barcelona, but there is the fear of not having a reliable backup option.
There was fear around the availability of Eduardo Camavinga and Eder Militano after the duo sustained blows in the last game. However, Ancelotti confirmed in his pre-game press conference that the players have recovered well and confirmed their participation in the final.
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Valencia
For all the institutional and sporting catastrophes Valencia suffer from, they put up a resilient show against Real Madrid last month and held them to a draw in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup.
Having fired Gennaro Gattuso less than 48 hours ago, Los Che will be under the command of an interim coach at Santiago Bernabeu in the hope of repeating their feat from Saudi Arabia.
After all, they are struggling this season with just 20 points in 18 league appearances.
Valencia may not be the top team it used to be a couple of seasons ago, but there is a fighting spirit to the squad that makes them special.
As Real Madrid looks to make amends for their dropped points against La Real, some important considerations cross the manager’s mind regarding the clash against Los Che.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Valencia.
1. More names at Ancelotti’s disposal
Real Madrid’s long injury list has been a thorn in Carlo Ancelotti’s feet for a long time now. While the manager has had close to five players unavailable through fitness concerns, two names were considered irreplaceable.
Daniel Carvajal is the first on that list. The Spanish International’s presence gave the club hope after Lucas Vazquez’s injury last month, but almost as if planned, the 30-year-old immediately suffered a blow in training and was forced to sit out.
For four games, Ancelotti was thus forced to field Nacho Fernandez as his right-back. The centre-back did a good job at covering out of position, however, will be pushed back to the bench on Thursday as Los Blancos celebrate the return of Carvajal.
The defender is not the only one making his way back, as Aurelien Tchouameni also received the medical all-clear earlier this week.
The French pivot hobbled off an hour into Real Madrid’s league clash against Villarreal in the first week of January and has been sidelined for close to a month.
His absence pushed his coach to try numerous permutations in midfield, but it was finally Eduardo Camavinga who stamped his authority on the position.
With Tchouameni back roaring, his place in the starting lineup seems to be written in stone. One can expect the Frenchman to be deployed alongside Toni Kroos and Dani Ceballos for his return to action on Thursday.
2. Concern shifts from right to left-back
The Merengues will finally have a natural right-back available to play against Valencia midweek. However, that does not signal the end of the Italian tactician’s trouble-riddles period.
Just when one full-back position returned to a state of normalcy, Real Madrid now have a crisis at left-back.
Ferland Mendy picked up a thigh injury earlier this week and will miss the team’s next two months of action at least. To say that this is a big blow to the club’s plans would be an understatement, for Mendy was the only natural left-back available in the squad.
David Alaba would appear to be the best-placed alternative, but the Austrian is ruled out through injury himself. Placed at a lack of options, Ancelotti confirmed in his press conference earlier today that Eduardo Camavinga would play there against Valencia.
The youngster has played in the defensive position earlier but will face the heat going up against Jose Luis Gaya at Santiago Bernabeu.
Given that Valencia’s right flank put up a memorable display when the two teams met last month, one can be certain that Camavinga’s performance can make or break Real Madrid’s night.
3. No margin for error
Less than halfway through the league season, Los Blancos already find themselves five points behind Barcelona. The wide gap is not a consequence of the defending champions’ poor form but the sheer consistency of Xavi Hernandez’s men, who cannot stop winning.
Having won the Supercopa de Espana last month, the Catalans are currently riding high on confidence. With their season heading from strength to strength, Real Madrid must hold on and wait for the right opportunity to topple the tables.
The Galacticos‘ draw against Real Sociedad added two points to the gap between the top two sides last week. At this stage, Ancelotti’s men cannot afford any further slip-ups for a larger gap would be too much for the men in white to compensate.
Every game henceforth will be a final for Real Madrid in La Liga. Three points are the bare minimum the club can walk away with from any fixture, and that mission will start from their game against Valencia.