Ancelotti and Zidane have developed a fascinating midfield with Ángel di María, Luka Modrić and Xabi Alonso. The latter two have great positional sense and are able to balance the ebb and flow of the game to control tempo while di María's industry and technique add to the variability and completeness of the middle third.
The Pepe-Ramos combo has reached new heights performing at extraordinary levels in recent games. The only issue at center-back is a lack of depth to minimize tiredness and injuries. It must be noted that Varane's return should help in this regard. The full back situation is much better allowing for greater use of rotation.
The options in attack seem unending as proven by Jesé Rodriguez's continued ascent. If Ronaldo and Benzema are off their game, the young Spaniard is able to step in and make a difference. In addition, quality alternatives are available -- in Isco and Bale -- and ready to effect their influence when called upon.
The above make Madrid firm candidates for all three major competitions.
Status: Primary Contender
The team is undefeated in its last 12 games only failing to capture maximum points in two encounters during the streak. Although Los Merengues surrendered the opportunity to supplant FC Barcelona in second place, they have been up to scratch matching the challenges - albeit relatively weak on average - of each match day. They finally wrestled control of their destiny from the grasp of fate and are in the enviable position of shaping their future.
Tough fixtures awaiting Ancelotti's men include the upcoming contest against Villareal, a visit to Vicente Calderón, FC Barcelona in March, and finally, combatting La Real away. Getting positive results in these matches will be key to Madrid's push for number 33.
Status: Primary Contender
Challengers: Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester City/Barcelona, PSG
Real Madrid were favourably (under the circumstances) drawn against Schalke 04 in the Champions League Round of 16. The first leg will be fought in Germany - a place where ‘Madridismo' does not inspire the standard dread. This will be a great occasion for the Royal Whites to improve on their current European away record (1 win in 25) in Deutschland and put to bed the chronic trend of underperformance. Obtaining a victory at home a fortnight later should not be a complicated matter if the engines are running at full speed.
Were Madrid to progress, there is no shortage of worthy adversaries that could potentially be quarter-final opposition. Bayern Munich are in full stride and Guardiola has initiated cruise control ready to elevate the intensity when necessary. Chelsea earned a much talked about victory at the Etihad in a terrific display and now stand along with Bayern Munich as the only two teams (the European Supercup was a great indication of the strength of these two giants) to beat Manchester City away this season. City are formidable and possibly boast the most complete squad in Europe today. FC Barcelona are FC Barcelona and although not quite the vintage team of several years ago are still very capable. It is tough to gauge the exact level of the reigning Ligue 1 champions but PSG's threat is not an illusion.
Copa del Rey
Challengers: Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Real Sociedad
Diego Simeone and his men couldn't steady the ship long enough to weather the Santiago Bernabéu storm in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. Real Madrid rode their quality and luck to a resounding win. The team was already looking like Usain Bolt but with the deflected goals - their domination was the equivalent of what Usain Bolt on a Thoroughbred would probably resemble.
The three goal cushion from Wednesday is a very secure lead and a strong foundation for advancement to the final where Madrid will likely meet the Blaugrana in a replay of the 2011 ‘megamatch'. If things unfold in this fashion - it will be a wonderful setting for an epic El Clásico.
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