Last week Real Madrid drove eight miles south to the Vicente Calderón Stadium for their penultimate meeting with Atlético de Madrid. 90 minutes later, they left having neither conceded nor scored. Real Madrid looked the best they had all season against Atléti (which may not be saying much), and to have left without an away goal felt like a wasted opportunity.
The sting of not having scored worsened at the weekend, when Luka Modrić, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale all picked up injuries which will keep them on the bench, next to a suspended Marcelo.
Now, Real Madrid need a winning result -- any winning result -- to make the Champions League semifinals for the fifth straight year. And they must do it without four key starters. Carlo Ancelotti's been oft-criticized for his reluctance to rotate his squad. Now, he doesn't have much of a choice but to do so.
The squad list was released on Tuesday, and Ancelotti was tight-lipped about what the lineup will look like. Which leaves tons of room to speculate. Isco will almost certainly take Modrić's spot in the midfield, and Fábio Coentrão will do the same for Marcelo at left back. Chicharito had a strong showing against Málaga and will likely fill in Benzema's shoes at the top, leaving one last question: Who will start next to Toni Kroos in midfield?
The candidates are Lucas Silva, Sami Khedira, and Asier Illarramendi. Lucas Silva is the least likely to take the spot, as Ancelotti described him recently as "One for the future." Sami Khedira has looked completely out to lunch this season, and hasn't played a minute since his dreadful showing last month against Schalke. Illarra filled in for Modrić at the weekend, but he hasn't gotten minutes in any prominent games this season.
More on the Derby
More on the Derby
Expect Ancelotti to play a 4-4-2 with Isco, Kroos, Illarra, and James in the midfield behind Chicharito and Ronaldo. Illarra could provide some considerable defensive fortitude, with James playing closer to the forwards than the midfielders.
Atlètico will trot out a nearly identical 11 in the Bernabéu as they did in the Calderón, with Tiago taking Mario Suárez's spot in midfield. For 80 minutes last week, Atléti looked hapless in attack before a late surge. Atléti had only 39 percent of the ball, and managed only two shots on target at home, and with a more defensive-minded Illarramendi in the midfield, Atlético may have even more trouble creating chances from open play.
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Date & Time: Wednesday, April 22th. 20:45 local time (CET), 14:45 (EST)
Projected lineup: Casillas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Coentrão; Kroos, Isco, Illarra, James, Ronaldo, Chicharito
TV Schedule: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes (USA), Sky Sports Go (UK), Movistar TV Fútbol, C+ Liga de Campeones (Spain), Others
The objective is simple for Real Madrid: just win. Any winning result will see them through, and Atléti have proved to be pesky in their inability to lose to Real Madrid.
We can only hope the recent wave of injuries has galvanized both the squad and the fans, and I'd fully expect to see the Bernabéu as electric as ever tomorrow. Any club which loses the world's best midfielder will struggle, but it may coerce Real into playing an 11 which would make life very difficult for Atlético to get an away goal.
The previous seven Derbis Madrileño don't mean much now. Real Madrid must prove that "Noventa minuti en el Bernabéu son molto longo."