Three talking points ahead of Valladolid vs Real Madrid
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.
Three talking points from Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid | La Liga
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat against Barcelona on their first trip to Spotify Camp Nou after more than a year.
The Catalans had not won against the Merengues at home since 2018 ahead of the game but a clutch goal from Franck Kessie helped them turn around the record.
Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early in the game by forcing an error and own goal from Ronald Araujo. The hosts levelled the score in the 45th minute through Sergi Roberto, before the winner arrived in stoppage time.
The game was not without its share of controversy as Real Madrid had a goal disallowed for offside that Ancelotti felt was unfair. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from the fourth Clasico of the season.
1. Quality of full-backs
Real Madrid have etched their names into history as one of the most deadly counter-attacking teams in world football. Their pacey transitions and shifts of play have traditionally progressed through the wing with unreal speed to catch the opponent off-guard even in a momentary lapse in concentration.
Needless to say, the full-backs have always worked in tandem with the team’s wingers to make such speedy counters possible. The glaring problem at Real Madrid currently is that their full-backs do not provide half as much as they need to.
Los Blancos’ counterattack now seemingly consists of only Vinicius Jr on the left wing making a quick transition to find Karim Benzema. With just one outlet, it is difficult for the men in white to be effective.
The story at Spotify Camp Nou was very similar. Dani Carvajal started as the right-back and had a good showing defensively. Yet, he was virtually absent in the final third and left Real Madrid’s right-wing lifeless. In ninety minutes, he managed no crosses or long balls and had just one key pass.
The story at left-back was equally, if not more abysmal. Nacho Fernandez was the candidate deployed in the position and could also not manage a single cross, long ball or key pass on the night. He was eventually substituted for Ferland Mendy but the Frenchman could not do much either.
The difference in the quality of full-backs between Barcelona and Ancelotti’s side is gaping. The Catalans blazed through the wings on the night with Ronald Araujo and Alejandro Balde who constantly got forward in attack to stretch the men in white. In response, Real Madrid had nothing.
2. A dead right-wing and lack of intensity
It is imperative for any top football team to have the resources to attack both wings, for it is the constant switching of play that triggers errors from the opposition. For a club like Real Madrid to not have such resources is criminal.
The game against Barcelona was completely predictable given that the Merengues’ right wing was nonexistent. Any attack, almost surely, had to come down Vinicius’ wing and this made Barcelona’s defensive work easier.
Dani Carvajal was barely involved in the final third against the Catalans. That, coupled with Federico Valverde’s atrocious showing as the right-winger removed one side of the field from Real Madrid’s game.
Valverde made just 27 passes in 76 minutes and failed to make a single cross on the night. Further, he recorded just one key pass and one accurate long ball in El Clasico.
When Marco Asensio came on for Los Blancos, the equation completely turned around. The winger came on as a direct replacement for Valverde and happened to score the disallowed goal that was millimetres from giving Real Madrid three points.
More importantly, the move for the aforementioned goal was completely down the right flank, a testament to the alarming situation.
3. Goodbye La Liga?
When the clock at Spotify Camp Nou struck 81 minutes, the race for La Liga seemed to be on. Real Madrid had just scored a possible winner and had cut short their deficit with Barcelona to just six points.
Ten minutes later, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of the hosts. Their lead atop the league standings was suddenly twelve points with just 12 games to go.
History is witness that counting out Real Madrid does not fare well. However, it is difficult to surpass the supposition that the 12-point gap is too wide to bridge.
Los Blancos will continue to fight in the league, but Ancelotti will likely preserve his weapons for the UEFA Champions League where they face a bigger chance at glory.