Once again, the feared FIFA virus attacked its favourite prey. Carlo Ancelotti will have a hard time to configure a lineup to face the current Liga BBVA champion Atlético de Madrid in Santiago Bernabéu. After a hesitant start, our coach confirmed that some things need to change for the team to be able to fight for everything, and this transition will be more difficult now due to the absences of Sami Khedira and Dani Carvajal.
Starting by the goal, the debate is still open. It is not that Casillas is the one to blame for any of the goals Real Madrid received in Anoeta a couple weeks ago, and his performance against Macedonia with the Spanish National Team was convincing, but it is somehow clear that he is not at his best condition. Keylor Navas has stayed in Valdebebas for the past two weeks working hard to convince Vecchi to give him a chance.
Ramos and Pepe will, for sure, feature in the defensive line. As usual, it is hard to predict whether Ancelotti will pick Marcelo or Coentrao for the left-back, while the injured Carvajal will likely be replaced by Álvaro Arbeloa. However, some reports in Spain indicate that Ramos could take that spot, so Varane would feature as a centerback together with Pepe.
Things are not much easier in the midfield positions. Modric and Kroos will, for sure, be in the lineup, but who his partner will be remains unknown. It is worth remembering that Ancelotti used Alonso as a defensive midfielder, together with those two, in both Supercup games against Atlético, so perhaps Illarramendi would be the most natural pick. However, moving Kroos to that spot and giving James or Isco the one Toni was occupying has been Carlo's approach when Alonso was not available, and both of them partially succeeded (James in the UEFA Supercup and Isco in the first 35 minutes against Real Sociedad) but it feels like they lack the defensive work rate that is needed to face an intense team as Atlético. Again, reports in Spain suggest more bizarre options, such as:
- Using Varane as a defensive midfielder, together with Modric and Kroos: While this could work, since Varane knows this role from his time at RC Lens, it would be a tremendous coup to Illarramendi's morale. Besides, Ancelotti has already tried a centerback as a defensive midfielder before in Real Madrid (Sergio Ramos against Barcelona) and it didn't work.
- Using Coentrao or Bale as a left-central midfielder, in Di María's role last season: This makes sense with Coentrao, who played there at Zaragoza and Benfica. His defensive work rate is undeniable and he is quite talented offensively. However, I really don't see how this could work with Bale and, furthermore, it seems unlikely that Ancelotti will relegate him from his favourite spot in the frontline. In my opinion, Marcelo is the best man for this role at Real Madrid, but no one has mentioned lately that Ancelotti would try him here.
As a result, it is quite reasonable to think that the BBC trio will occupy the frontline after Ronaldo's recovery is fully completed, but be ready for some Chicharito if things get ugly.
All things said, my projected lineup for Real Madrid would be Navas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Illarramendi, Modric, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo. Therefore, Isco, Marcelo, James and Chicharito would remain in the bench as potential game-changers.
Things seem easier at the opposite shore of River Manzanares. Although Simeone won't be sitting at Bernabéu's bench, he has been able to prepare the game with all his players except Cristian Cebolla Rodríguez, who is suffering some muscular problems. Taking into account Atlético's proposal in their recent visits to Bernabéu, we can imagine they will choose a very similar lineup to the one they displayed in the Spanish Supercup's first leg, with
aggresive strong midfielders, a lot of violence intensity and direct play. Reports in Spain indicate that the most plausible lineup is Moyá; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Siqueira; Gabi, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García; Griezmann, Mandzukic.