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Real Madrid's injury crisis not all bad

Carlo Ancelotti wanted his full complement of players available for what is arguably his side's biggest game of the season but with the injury damage already done, there are some positives to cling on to.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday Carlo Ancelotti boasted the rarity of a full Real Madrid squad to select from but seven days on he is facing an injury crisis on the eve of arguably his side's biggest match of the season so far.

Madrid continue the defence of their European Cup on Wednesday night against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their quarter-final clash but the holders will contest it without attacking pair Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, as well as midfield magician Luka Modric. To add salt into the wounds, Marcelo is also absent through suspension.

Only last week the Madrid-based press looked at Ancelotti's struggles to fit all of his stars into a starting line-up but now the Italian will be forced into desperate measures. He will be forced into considering Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi in the middle, two players he has little faith in for differing reasons, and he will look at handing opportunities to Javier Hernandez and Jesse Rodriguez in attack.

Few will feel sorry for a man who boasts the squad that cost the sum of money Madrid's did but to Ancelotti's credit he has not looked for excuses. "In Madrid there are no problems, there are only solutions," he said. Ancelotti pointed to the solutions as being good ones. He was hardly going to say they were bad ones, however.

There are plenty of good ones in the middle. Isco, arguably Madrid's player of the season alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo, has been the one to suffer when Madrid are at full-strength. This is a player who has shone for Spain, got people on their feet in opposing stadiums and is attracting the best clubs from around Europe. Yet (and there are probably political factors involved) he has only been good enough for the bench in recent matches.

The problem comes in attack. Ancelotti relies heavily on the ‘BBC' of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano and his back-ups are not the same calibre as those in midfield or those in defence (with Raphael Varane an alternative to Pepe and Sergio Ramos). Javier Hernandez looks like a panic buy on reflection, given the few minutes the Mexican has been afforded, while Jese Rodriguez has not been able to hit the heights of last season when he burst on to the scene.

It leaves Madrid light in attack just when they need their power play the most. The European champions may get away with being under-strength most of the time, as highlighted in the recent 3-0 victory over Eibar, but playing an Atleti side that bases its success on a robust defence is a different matter entirely.

Diego Simeone's side have not lost in seven matches against Madrid this season but within those seven matches Madrid have failed to find the back of the net on four occasions. Indeed, Ancelotti's men have only failed to score five times in all competitions this season and four of those have been at the hands of their city rivals. One of the most expensively assembled attacking forces in the world has been well and truly extinguished this season.

That statistic lends itself to a positive for Madrid fans to cling on to for Wednesday night. Madrid have scored five times against Atleti this season but neither Gareth Bale nor Karim Benzema have been able to get on the scoresheet. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored twice, James Rodriguez scored in the 1-1 Spanish Super Cup draw at the Bernabeu and Sergio Ramos has also got through Atleti's stubborn backline but two of Madrid's front three have underperformed previously this term.

That has been through poor individual performances, poor performances collectively, good saves, bad misses and bad luck but the fact of the matter is that Atleti's back four, which will likely be compiled of Juanfran, Diego Godin, Miranda and Guilherme Siqueira has largely got the better of Madrid's front three this season.

While all the doom and gloom has flooded the Madrid fans in recent days, the positive light can at least be that Atleti will be facing something different and something unknown come 20:45 (CET) on Wednesday. With respect, nobody wanted to be in the position of having to field either Hernandez or Jese for the match but that's the position Madrid find themselves in and they have to look at the positives.

Chicharito has played just seventeen minutes in total against Atleti this season, all of them coming at the Calderon when Madrid found themselves 3-0 down in the league in February. He was not used in either cup match and his arrival came after the first league match and the two Spanish Super Cup matches. Jese played an hour, with 45 minutes in that infamous 4-0 loss and 15 minutes in the cup. Hardly platforms for either player to shine on.

The Mexican is the man likely to get the nod according to the Spanish press and he will be hungry to prove he has what it takes to make an impact in the Spanish capital. Just two league starts and two European starts have brought a four goal return, albeit with more minutes from the bench, but he will be desperate to prove he is up to the challenge after complaining of frustration while on international duty last month. Now he has his chance.

The Manchester United loan man may have no future at the Bernabeu but he came to the club for these moments and he will provide a performance packed full of energy and is a player who is at the right place at the right time to bag a goal. His statistics may pale into insignificance in the grand scheme of things but he had the fourth best strike ratio in La Liga before Saturday's game against Malaga. He at least has a nose for goal.

There is also the aspect that a lack of numbers in attack will all-but force Ancelotti to play with four in midfield. A 4-4-2 that has been successful in the past, that allows more numbers in the middle against Atleti's tough middle men and one that has been demanded by the fans. It offers a more rigid defensive unit but with Isco, Toni Kroos and James in there is also offers lots of attacking bite.

With these injuries and changes the momentum swings to Atleti. A 0-0 draw at home may not be the best result for either side but although Madrid were the better team in the first leg, and the hosts had a superb Jan Oblak to thank for keeping out a crucial away goal, Simeone's men will thrive on the result more than Madrid. That makes them slight favourites on Wednesday night and that tag does not sit fully comfortably with Los Colchoneros. They would rather be up against it.

Madrid's injury problems are a blow but they are not the nail in their Champions League coffin just yet. Doubts are to be proved wrong, chances are to be taken and Ancelotti must make the most of a different approach to end the recent similar outcomes.

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