European football writes some of the best storylines in the sport. The struggle of lower-ranked teams to secure qualification, the heartbreak for top teams year after year, emphatic comebacks and fascinating matchups, the UEFA Champions League has it all.
The story of SC Braga and their path to the competition is equally moving. The Portuguese club are not usually accustomed to playing at the highest level, yet, live to see the special days after their manager secured a UCL spot for the team for only the third time in their history.
To face Real Madrid in the competition, thus, is a big moment for the players and fans alike. Braga do not have anything to lose on the night, and it is often such carefree teams that pose the most dangerous threats.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side must thus be wary during the game in Portugal tomorrow. If they learnt anything from the game against Union Berlin, it is to never underestimate an opponent in the UCL.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of SC Braga vs Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
Changes in attack
Carlo Ancelotti’s side may have pointed the finger at a number of parties after Saturday’s draw to Sevilla. However, the fact of the matter remains that there were gaping holes in their performance on the night.
Los Blancos defended in unison but failed to attack comprehensively against the Seville-based side. A big part of the blame, unsurprisingly, falls on the attacking duo on the night.
Both Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes started the game at Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan at the weekend and appeared clueless as to their role on the field.
The former, who is normally the team’s protagonist on the field, struggled with his normal dribbles and lacked the cutting edge in front of goal. Further, his combination play was sub-par.
Rodrygo, meanwhile, has been enduring a longer lean patch than his compatriot. The Brazilian protege has had the most shots and chances of any Real Madrid star this season, yet has failed to find the back of the net.
Carlo Ancelotti must thus look for change tomorrow night, and it could well begin with changing the personnel. Joselu would be deserving of a start against Braga.
Back to winning ways
Carlo Ancelotti’s men have not been at their lethal best this season, yet, have found ways to win more often than not.
Even on nights when they seemingly do not click, they have gone through to secure three points through individual brilliance. It may not be beautiful, but it does the trick for Los Blancos.
Of their 12 games across all competitions this season, the Merengues have dropped points only twice – the first in the loss to Atletico Madrid and the second last weekend against Sevilla.
The goal on Tuesday night, thus, will be to return to winning ways at any cost. After all, the Galacticos are a highly momentum-dependant team and would like to turn things around the moment they threaten to go awry.
El Clasico is just around the corner, for Real Madrid travel to Monjtuic to face Barcelona later this week.
Considering that tomorrow’s clash is the team’s final game before the big fixture away from home, getting back on track with a win becomes more crucial than ever before.
Will Ancelotti rotate?
The recent international break saw club football away from the big screens for close to two weeks. In an ideal world, that would have meant rest for the team’s top guns, but the world of football is far from as forgiving.
The truth of the matter is that several of Real Madrid’s key stars are fatigued with the hectic schedule. Players like Federico Valverde, Vinicius Jr, and Rodrygo Goes even more so, considering the long journey from America they had to undertake not so long ago.
The spotlight thus falls on Ancelotti and his man-management. What does the coach deem to be right – to go all out for the UCL win and virtually secure qualification or to rest his big guns on the night in preparation for El Clasico?
“Rotations ahead of El Clásico? No, but I won’t use the same XI we used vs Sevilla. I have to evaluate the players who are tired after the break, some took knocks against Sevilla… so we will see,” Ancelotti said about his team.
If indeed he opts to shuffle his cards, what combination of veterans and youth will drive the midfield the best? Will he start both Modric and Kroos together after the bitter experience against Atletico Madrid?
Can Bellingham be rested without impacting the result on the field? Who can replace the full-backs?
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli | UEFA Champions League
Fresh off their 3-0 win against Cadiz at the weekend, Real Madrid return to the field late on Wednesday night to take on Napoli in a critical UEFA Champions League fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A lot has changed since the two teams last met. Napoli sacked Rudi Garcia not so long ago and appointed Walter Mazzarri as the new manager. The Italian got off to a great start in the form of a 2-1 win over Atalanta in his first game in the position.
Yet, he will face his first big test in the form of Real Madrid later tomorrow. The Naples-based side will have a lot to prove to their manager and the fans on the night, but it is clear that the Merengues will not treat the fixture lightly either.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli.
The headlining clash
The UEFA Champions League leaves fans spoilt for choice, for it offers the highest quality of football between some of the world’s best teams on a regular basis. The headlining fixtures begin as early as the group stages and only grow in promise as the season progresses.
When Real Madrid were drawn into Group C in this year’s UCL, all eyes were on the team that would take the next highest-seeded spot. It was eventually Napoli that made the cut, making the Spanish-Italian clash the group’s most-awaited game.
Since then, the two teams have already faced off once at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Matchday two of the competition. The clash was evenly balanced for the most part, but Jude Bellingham’s masterclass enabled a narrow 3-2 Real Madrid win.
Close to two months on, the two European giants face off once more, this time at the Santiago Bernabeu. One cannot help but call the upcoming clash the title clash of the matchday, especially considering the two team’s recent history and what rides on the result.
Real Madrid’s place in the Round of 16 was confirmed after their win over SC Braga in the last matchday. Napoli, however, are yet to secure such confirmation and a defeat tomorrow could potentially reduce their gap over Braga to one point.
Napoli thus need the win to maintain security over their qualification, while Real Madrid hope to cement their place as group leaders with a win. With both teams having a lot riding on the result, the game will have no dearth of life on the night.
Carlo Ancelotti spent many a day in the recent international break plotting means to overcome his midfield crisis. After all, he was without the services of Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga had also suffered a gruesome injury on national team duty.
The manager thus deployed his best midfield quartet for the clash against Cadiz, hoping to improve the harmony between the four stars. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde, and Jude Bellingham all started but the situation got ugly after the 38-year-old walked off injured in the second half.
Ancelotti thus now faces a bottleneck in midfield. Modric has been excluded from the squad after his latest injury, leaving the manager with just four options from the first-team in midfield. Needless to say, all four players are expected to start in Real Madrid’s 4-4-2 diamond formation on the night.
Bellingham will be deployed as the attacking midfielder while Kroos is likely to play as the pivot. The two interiors will be Dani Ceballos and Valverde, the former of whom has not started a single game all season.
The situation in midfield is thus grim, for the manager can not afford any further injuries in the department.
The man in form
The beginning of Real Madrid’s 2023-24 campaign was all about Jude Bellingham. The Englishman could not stop scoring goals for fun across all competitions and single-handedly won games even in situations where all hope seemed lost.
Rodrygo has stolen the limelight from the English protege in recent weeks, and his resurgence could not come at a better time for Ancelotti. After all, the Brazilian was enduring one of his worst-ever starts to a season but managed to find his footing exactly after Bellingham suffered the blow to his shoulder.
The 22-year-old has been nothing short of spectacular in Real Madrid’s recent games. His purple patch began against Braga when he scored once and assisted once to give Los Blancos three critical points.
In the team’s subsequent clash against Valencia, Rodrygo stole the show. In 90 minutes against Los Che, the youngster scored two goals and provided as many assists in the team’s 5-1 win. He added another two goals and an assist to his tally in Real Madrid’s most recent clash against Cadiz.
Needless to say, the spotlight will shine brightly on Rodrygo in tomorrow’s game. As the team’s most in-form player, the onus will be on him to find the required breakthroughs on the night and lead the attack from the front in Vinicius Jr.’s absence.