Last Saturday, Madridistas were disappointed to see a disinterested, unmotivated, and lethargic Real Madrid draw to relegation-threatened Zaragoza. Two days ago, Madridistas were treated to a sharp, agressive, and decisive Real Madrid in the team's 3-0 victory against Galatasaray in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. So, which Madrid will show up tomorrow to battle Levante?
The big news coming out of Madrid's camp is that captain Iker Casillas has been called up for the match; however, assistant coach Aitor Karanka has already made it clear that Casillas will not start tomorrow's game. Considering Diego Lopez's sensational form since joining Real Madrid, fans and pundits everywhere are questioning whether Iker will be able to reclaim his starting berth this season.
While Diego Lopez is a lock to start in goal tomorrow, the remainder of the squad will look different as Jose Mourinho rests certain players ahead of Tuesday's return leg in Istanbul. Defensive prodigy Raphael Varane has been left off the squad list, as has left back Fábio Coentrão and defensive midfielder Sami Khedira. The back line will likely see the return of Madrid's "old school" formation with Álvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, and Marcelo protecting the area. Raul Albiol could be a substitute should one of the defenders get tired (or in Ramos' case, sent off).
The midfield will certainly be interesting. Considering the fact that Sami Khedira is out and both Xabi Alonso and Michael Essien played at max capacity two days ago, who will Mourinho start alongside Luka Modric? I'd venture to guess Essien will get the nod to give Xabi Alonso as much rest as possible, but as we saw in last week's game to Zaragoza, Madrid struggles to accurately play the ball into the final third of the pitch when Alonso is not playing. Since Alonso is suspended for Tuesday's Champions League game, he could very well feature in the second half.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo will start on the left wing with Kaká likely starting in the hole and either José Callejón or Ángel di María featuring on the right. Both Kaká and José Callejón failed to impress when starting in last week's game, so hopefully both players put in a more convincing shift this time around. Ángel di María seems to be recovering his devastating form, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him start in the hopes of nurturing this positive trend. If Kaká needs to come off, Mourinho can count on German phenom Mesut Özil to work his magic in midfield. Özil is a sure-fire starter for Tuesday's Champions League match.
Finally, it seems that Mourinho may have a positive headache on his hands in deciding who starts at centre-forward: Gonzalo Higuaín or Karim Benzema. Both strikers scored against Galatasaray (a welcome sight for Madridistas); however, Higuaín will likely start tomorrow as Benzema is Madrid's preferred striker on European nights.
While fans know that Madrid cannot realistically surpass Barcelona in this Liga campaign, we do hope to see some more cohesion, fluidity and drive from our idols in tomorrow's fixture against Levante. It won't be an easy match as tenth-placed Levante is a tough opponent with physically imposing players like centre-backs Sergio Ballesteros and David Navarro (last time these teams met, centre-back David Navarro delivered an elbow to Cristiano Ronaldo's eye). Navarro is suspended for tomorrow's game, so hopefully Madrid's attackers will use their gifted technique and vision to find the back of the net while avoiding injuries and dangerous confrontations.
Real Madrid kicks off against Levante on Saturday, April 6th at 18:00 CET/ 12:00 pm EST/ 9:00 am PST.