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Three talking points ahead of Valladolid vs Real Madrid

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Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

The FIFA World Cup kept football fans across the globe hooked on the action for over a month. The global event, largely hailed as one of the best editions in history, had supporters on the edge of their seats and took them through a roller coaster of emotions.

Less than two weeks after Argentina lifted the trophy in Qatar, club football has finally returned. Real Madrid’s players who fought tooth and nail to eliminate each other over the past month once again share the same dressing room, now with a common objective in mind.

The Merengues will take on Real Valladolid in their first game after the restart on Friday night and will be the favourites to walk away with three points. Yet, coming back from a long break can be problematic and one hopes that the lost synergy returns soon.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of the return of the defending champions.

1. A full-strength squad

Thirteen Real Madrid stars were called up by their respective National teams to represent their country in the recently concluded World Cup. While some had their dreams crushed early, others enjoyed a deep run.

No player in the team can boast of having won the title this year, but Aurelien Tchouameni, Luka Modric and Eduardo Camavinga made it within touching distance of the silverware. Further, Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo made it to the quarterfinals too, only to be eliminated by Croatia.

The French internationals and Modric were expected to rejoin training late as they earned a well-deserved break after their deep campaign. However, all three players returned to Madrid on Thursday and have all been included in Ancelotti’s squad to take on Real Valladolid.

As the team embark on a long and hectic journey ahead in the second half of the season, such commitment will go a long way. But it remains to be seen if the manager opts to start Tchouameni and Modric on the night.

2. Objective La Liga

Real Madrid were well poised to head into the international break with a lead over the rest of the pack, but everything changed that night at Vallecas.

Los Blancos suffered their first defeat of the season in the penultimate matchday ahead of the international break as Andoni Iralola’s side made a comeback to overthrow the defending champions. The forfeited points gave Barcelona the chance to take the pole position in the league standings, and the Catalan giants did exactly that.

As La Liga restarts ahead of the new year, Ancelotti’s men trail their arch-rivals by just two points. There is a long road ahead in the league, with 24 more games to be played before the curtains close.

It will now be a game of consistency and mental resilience, and it is the champions of Europe who have the upper hand in both aspects.

3. Capping off a memorable year

To say that 2022 was special for Real Madrid would be an understatement.

From bringing home the club’s 14th UEFA Champions League title to sealing yet another dominant domestic league title; welcoming home a Ballon d’Or winner to seeing young stars take over the baton, the institution could not have asked for a better year.

Good results are never in shortage at the Santiago Bernabeu, for winning has become part of the team’s culture. Winning is no longer merely an expectation but a demand when one remembers their rich history.

Yet, 2022 felt sweeter than the ones preceding it. Part of that boiled down to the fact that the team did not rely on much individual brilliance to pull it through but a collective effort.

Even in the most adverse of situations, the dressing room found light at the end of the tunnel and channeled out some magic. Their Champions League run will go down in the history books as one of the most fiercely fought and magically won titles ever.

Their mentality makes them a force to reckon with on the field, and it is exactly what Ancelotti will be looking for in his players once again. As the men in white prepare to step out one last time in this magical year, one can only hope that 2023 brings with it greener grasses.

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Three talking points ahead of Manchester City vs Real Madrid

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Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The big Champions League nights seldom disappoint, and the first-leg quarterfinal results last week in this year’s edition were no different.

The four games cumulatively saw 18 goals scored, none of which were overwhelmingly convincing, thus leaving the ground level ahead of the decisive second legs.

Of the four fixtures that unfolded last week, the clash between Real Madrid and Manchester City was the most entertaining, by far.

An enthralling 3-3 draw saw both Los Blancos and Pep Guardiola’s men pull off mini-comebacks on the night before they eventually split the spoils and left everything to be decided at the Etihad Stadium.

Tomorrow, the two European giants face off again in Manchester in a game that will grant the victor a spot in the semifinal of this season’s Champions League.

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

New year, new team

As Real Madrid head to the Etihad to take part in the decisive second leg, they invariably confront some horrific memories at the arena.

For starters, the men in white have never beaten Manchester City at the Etihad in an official game. Of the teams’ last three meetings at the venue over the past four years, City have always come out on top at home.

Los Blancos’ most recent recollection of the venue does not help in any way either. After all, they headed to England last season after a draw in the first leg at home, only to be destroyed by a 4-0 margin by Pep Guardiola’s men.

Fast forward one year, the Spanish giants once again failed to secure an advantage in the home fixture. To qualify for the semifinal, they must not only conquer the Etihad’s curse but also get past the ghosts of last year.

A lot has changed in Carlo Ancelotti’s setup since the two sides last met. Karim Benema’s departure, Jude Bellingham’s arrival, and the rise of new stars in goal and defence are just some of the innumerable variations that have grown into the Madrid-based entity.

Ancelotti’s primary goal tomorrow, thus, should be to keep the morale and belief of his men high. It is a new year, a new team, and history plays no part in how the game plays out.

The defensive situation

Rudiger and Nacho likely to start in defence. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Ancelotti was faced with a defensive dilemma ahead of Real Madrid’s first leg last week. Of the available options, he opted to go with Aurelien Tchouameni to partner Antonio Rudiger, purely because of the Frenchman’s prowess in aerial duels.

While Tchouameni did do a good job, he is suspended for tomorrow’s clash leaving the Italian coach in a tricky situation in defence.

His Plan B, Eder Militao, is not fit enough to start, and everything indicates that Nacho will be the player to start alongside the German.

Tomorrow’s game at Etihad will be a personal battle for Rudiger, for he was dropped the last time Real Madrid played at the venue and watched his team’s destruction from the sidelines.

Now arriving as the leader of defence, he will make it his objective to prove that Ancelotti’s decision to drop him a year ago was costly. After all, he has efficiently defended against Erling Haaland in all his meetings with the Norwegian.

An equal share of the spotlight will shine on Nacho, whose aerial ability will be tested, and Ferland Mendy, who suffered against Bernardo Silva a week ago.

Clarity in approach

Real Madrid differ from other top European clubs in one primary respect. Unlike the goal of competitors to play a beautiful game, dominate the proceedings and assert authority, Los Blancos purely concern themselves with the result.

Be it ugly or an exquisitely crafted display, the win and qualification are all that Ancelotti aims for. The aforementioned approach has largely pioneered the team’s success over the years.

Heading into tomorrow’s clash, it is thus imperative that Real Madrid have the right idea of what to expect.

It will be close to impossible to dominate proceedings against a well-oiled Pep Guardiola team, nor will it be simple to boast of possession. As such, the Merengues will likely be forced to defend deep for large parts of the game.

What will be critical, however, are the few chances they get on the counter-attack. The likes of Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo Goes, Jude Bellingham and Federico Valverde will be crucial if the team is to hit on the break with efficiency, and their form will account for a large part of the result.

The goal tomorrow, thus, must not be to dominate the game but purely to walk out victors. It might not turn out to be beautiful, but will surely be memorable should it work out.

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