Real Madrid know that their season will be defined on May 24th in Lisbon. Though the season has been marred by injury and inconsistency, los Blancos still have an incredible chance to capture the ultimate prize, our tenth European Cup. However, as two disappointing league outings showed us, there is still much work to be done before the final.
The most important is finding a replacement for the suspended Xabi Alonso. Though Ancelotti has stated that Asier Illarramendi is Alonso's most natural replacement, his inclusion in a Champions League Final starting XI is doubtful. It is too soon to pass judgment on the player after only his first season, but fans are worried about his inconsistency. His play in recent weeks, in particular, has highlighted his timidity and inexperience, and could make his inclusion a massive risk.
Will a newly returned Sami Khedira, with his work-rate and dedication, be fit for a final in just over two weeks? That is unlikely.
Another option would be shifting Modric further back to play in Alonso's position and playing Isco in the midfield ahead of him. This option is not without its drawbacks, as it limits Modric's ability to get forward while also pitting the diminutive Isco against the middle of Atleti's very powerful defensive midfield. No matter the solution, Ancelotti will have a tough job replacing "The Red Beard".
In addition to filling Xabi's position, Real Madrid have another serious worry ahead of the Final. They have been looking unusually vulnerable when defending set-pieces. Madrid dominated their matches against Barcelona, Valencia and Valladolid, yet allowed their opponents right back into each game with mistakes made defending set-pieces. This is especially worrying given the fact that Atletico have scored 30% of their goals via set pieces.
Ancelotti and his staff will have to spend additional time on the training ground to ensure that conceding cheap goals will not derail Real Madrid's chance of success.
While Xabi's replacement and set-piece defending can be addressed, Real Madrid's lack of firepower on the bench is not something that can be solved immediately. The absence of Jese has left Madrid's bench devoid of a game changing substitute. Alvaro Morata, despite his popularity among Madridistas, is clearly not yet of Real Madrid quality. Beyond that, Real Madrid have no other attacking players to turn to. Hopefully a situation requiring an additional attacker can be avoided in the Final, but if Real need inspiration, to whom will they turn?
Carlo Ancelloti has proven his ability as a manager, but the final is already proving a difficult test.