Ahead of Real Madrid’s first fixture of pre-season, up against Barcelona in Las Vegas, we can already learn from what we have been able to see with how Carlo Ancelotti has got his team working in their training routine.
12 players returned on July 8, with the team’s internationals joining almost a week later on July 14. Five days later, a 28-man squad jet off to Los Angeles. The squad included the likes of Luis López, Lucas Cañizares, Vinícius Tobías and Juanmi Latasa from Castilla.
Now, just over a week after Ancelotti was able to count upon an almost full squad, Real Madrid are conducting sessions which can provide us with some insights into the Italian’s thinking leading up to the kick-off.
In addition to new faces like the Castilla youngsters, Antonio Rüdiger and Aurelién Tchouaméni have been able to stake their claim and make a strong first impression.
Here are three takeaways from the first few weeks of 2022/23 before a ball has even been kicked on the field.
David Alaba might not move to the left after all
The selection choices in training are making it clear that David Alaba continues to play, primarily, in a central role.
In training routines and practice matches, the Austrian has always featured centrally and even as 11 vs 11 matches begin in training sessions, he has not been deployed on the left of the back four.
In Thursday’s session, Álvaro Odriozola was deployed on the left of defence. In Friday’s session, Alaba played in a back three with Rüdiger and Éder Militão, with Lucas Vázquez given a wing-back role in an asymmetrical defence.
On Thursday, Relevo reported that Alaba had spoken to Ancelotti to request to continue to play centrally. The presence of Vinícius Tobías was also seen to support that, with the Brazilian alternating with Odriozola as an alternative to Ferland Mendy on the left of defence.
All signs coming out of the club earlier in the summer had pointed towards Alaba being given a role on the left, but neither the player himself nor Ancelotti appear to be pushing that idea.
The use of a back-three in Friday’s session is perhaps the most intriguing move yet, potentially opening the door to a change in system. Diario AS’s Marco Ruiz wrote to consider the possibility, pointing to Ancelotti being unconvinced by any of the options for a third forward and potentially looking to change his system entirely, away from his traditional 4-3-3.
Eden Hazard will play as a false nine
In both Thursday’s and Friday’s training sessions, Hazard lined up in a front three in the middle, initially between Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes, and later with Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior. In both cases he operated as a false nine and, in fact, we are yet to see the Belgian feature in a wide role in any of Real Madrid’s public training sessions.
Another positive has been the physical condition of the forward. He has looked more agile, fit, and sharp than he has for some time, dating back to when he first joined the club. In one particular training routine, a burst of pace took him past Rüdiger with the kind of manoeuvre which we haven’t seen since his Chelsea days.
The role is an intriguing one which has looked promising so far. From the limited game time in a training context, he has operated effectively to link up play and bring in a threat for the two wingers either side of him. With such pace for all of the forwards he has played alongside to date, his vision and timing has helped to hold up play and create space in behind for the others to exploit.
However, this also says quite a lot about Ancelotti’s alternatives. Borja Mayoral did not travel as talks continued with Celta Vigo and Getafe over a permanent exit, while Mariano Díaz only featured fleetingly in the training session matches. Juanmi Latasa, the leading light from Castilla who has travelled with the squad, is yet to play any kind of leading role.
Antonio Pintus is working these players hard
When reports emerged that three different players had fallen down injured in Friday’s training session, it was perhaps only surprising that it had taken that long for the first strains and knocks to appear.
Hazard was among those, but his injury was a contact knock which is not expected to impact his involvement in Saturday night’s Clásico. The others were a slight muscle strain for Ferland Mendy, which looks likely to be a consequence of the issues that plagued him towards the end of 2021/22, and Dani Carvajal.
It comes as Los Blancos conduct a gruelling pre-season routine in extreme temperatures, which have yet to drop below 35°C/95°F for most of the team’s training sessions. In fact, exercises with the ball were not fully introduced until most players had already been back in action for a week.
“Pre-season training is based on an aerobic foundation of long runs which is then used hand in hand with the direction and objective of shorter and faster runs,” Pintus told Realmadrid TV. “I’m very happy with the players. They came back in a very good condition. It’s also a result of the work we’ve done over the past year. I’d like to thank them first of all. When the test turns out like this, it’s not down to me, but due to their hard work.”
Among those to have impressed the most has been summer signing Aurelién Tchouaméni, who has impressed both Pintus and Ancelotti with his condition, while fellow new arrival Antonio Rüdiger has also got off to a good start in the physical testing which all players have undergone.