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How can Real Madrid attack Sociedad without Cristiano Ronaldo?

Cristiano Ronaldo is out. How will Ancelotti adjust?

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo will not be in Real Madrid's starting 11 this weekend against Real Sociedad. With his two-match ban comes an unfamiliar feeling, one which Madridista's haven't felt too often. With the world's best out, how will Real Madrid adjust? It's been a while since I've sullied the web with Paint-driven analysis, so I'm introducing Mike's Lineup Machine to try to crack what Ancelotti will do without Cristiano Ronaldo.

Little known fact: Real Sociedad will not face Cristiano Ronaldo this season. Their first meeting is remembered by how Real Madrid bottled a two goal lead just 12 minutes in, only to lose 4-2, but Ronaldo was actually rested in late August for that match. Funny how when you blow a two goal lead in the second week of the season, details like that are forgotten. So facing La Real without Ronaldo is not unchartered waters. Here was the formation:

Ancelotti sent out a 4-3-3 with Bale switching to the left wing, and James sliding up into Bale's usual spot.

This time around, Modrić is out, and if Ancelotti wants to use this formation again, either Khedira or Illarra would take his spot. Not to say they'd have Luka's role (that would likely be Toni Kroos' duty), but if Ancelotti wants a three man midfield, it'd be one of Khedira or Illarra stepping in, and James stepping forward.

The first thing which stuck out is all the freedom Gareth Bale had. Here's a heat map of where he was on the pitch back in August:

You might be thinking, "That just looks like blue smudges all over the place." And you're not wrong. Bale was everywhere, from the center to the wings to the deep midfield. Contrast Bale's positioning with Isco's:

Isco stayed on the left mostly, and also drifted forward. Bale never stayed in one spot too often.

What to expect this time around

A mirror image of what we saw earlier this season. Isco has flourished on the left, and Illarra should be comfortable on the right. Kroos will not move from the center, where he's been imposing all season, and the same goes for Benzema. James has developed into more than just a No. 10. He's been fantastic tracking back all season, but he's still a dynamic attacking player and it's probably excited to get to push forward more freely now, knowing Illarra's behind him.

What might happen, but probably won't

Ancelotti doesn't use the 4-4-2 often because he doesn't have the squad for it. Isco's too good in attacking to sit in the midfield, as is James. A midfield of Kroos and Khedira would be great in stomping out La Real's attacks, but at the expense of attacking power.

What I'd love to see but it definitely won't happen

Five players at the top, all of whom like to shoot from outside of the box? Yes, please. The issue with this dream formation of mine is mostly the fact there's only one player in midfield. But you're lying to yourself if you say watching this wouldn't be a ton of fun.

A few final thoughts:

Bale needs to be given the freedom to roam where he wants. It's been proven effective and he's got the skill to take over a game a la Cristiano.

Somewhere on the pitch will suffer from Ronaldo's absence. The defenders he draws opens up so much, so Isco and Benzema may have a little less room than usual to operate.

Without Modrić, Kroos and Isco will need to be more creative and efficient in getting the ball to Benzema and Bale.

If Illarra is dropped, Khedira will probably be the one replacing him. Regardless of who gets the start, their duty will be to defend and dig balls out of their own third.

Marcelo probably should, but probably won't play more defensively. If the left side of the pitch has Bale, Isco, and Marcelo, then there'll be at least a few chances for La Real to exploit all three's offensive tendencies.

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