The opening round of fixtures in La Liga are just under a week away and after a successful pre-season, everyone is still a bit confused as to how Real Madrid are going to line up against Betis next Sunday evening.
An obvious problem at this point is also the subject of a certain Welshman and whether or not he will move to the Spanish capital. At the time of writing Gareth Bale is still a Spurs player, and for the purpose of this article we’ll assume it’ll stay this way.
Carlo Ancelotti is the man faced with the rather unpleasant task of choosing between some of the finest footballing talents in the world. While it doesn’t sound like a huge problem for a manager, the issue will be keeping everyone in the squad happy. Real Madrid’s bench will have three or four players warming it every week that are worth over €30 million. Modric, Illarramendi, Di Maria and Kaka all look in danger of having their expensive bottoms planted firmly on the Bernabeu’s banquillo for a chunk of the upcoming season.
Real Madrid’s defensive line is pretty easy to guess; a flat back four of Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe and Marcelo started the victorious ICC Final match against Chelsea and look likely open the season next weekend. The match had the feel of a competitive outing rather than a friendly; so Ancelotti’s preferred XI will likely be something similar to the side that beat Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea 3-1.
The real question with regard to the back four will come when Rafael Varane returns to fitness though, it is easy to see him stepping in beside Sergio Ramos in the center of defence. Dani Carvajal will challenge Arbeloa for the right back slot, and it will make for a very interesting battle throughout the season.
There is also still a question mark over which goalkeeper will be number one this season. Iker Casillas was famously shunned by Mourinho in favour of Diego Lopez and hasn’t played since January. The feeling though is that the club and national team captain will be back between the sticks under Ancelotti. A decision which Diego Lopez has every right to feel hard done by, after his outstanding performances last season.
Casillas played against Chelsea but Carlo Ancelotti showed that Diego Lopez isn’t completely out of his plans last night as he played the friendly against Inter Milan and kept a clean sheet.
Midfield is where there really is a selection headache. Last season, Xabi Alonso and Khedira occupied the two holding positions more than any other. The addition of Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad and the very strong pre-season showing from the lesser known Casemiro have put these positions in doubt though. Luka Modric also performed more than capably there last season; doing so again in that role against Chelsea.
Ahead of those two, Ronaldo is almost definitely going to occupy the left hand side of the pitch. Kaka, Modric, Ozil, Isco, Morata, Jesé and Angel Di Maria will be left to fight for the remaining two places next to the Portuguese. Up top will be Madrid’ s only out and out striker, Karim Benzema. Higuain’s departure has left Madrid with a lack of striking options and it looks like Morata, Jesé and Ronaldo will be expected to take up that position at times this season.
The midfield lined up with Modric and Khedira, behind Ronaldo, Ozil and Isco against Chelsea and it worked very well for the most part. That looks like the probable starting XI for the opening game of the season; at least until Xabi Alonso regains full fitness. Di Maria came on late against Chelsea and looked very dangerous and he will be pressing Isco very hard for a starting role throughout the season.
The abundance of talent in Real Madrid’s squad means that it is going to be tough for the manager to choose his best starting XI. And more importantly how he manages to keep everyone happy.
A safe bet would be that the side that starts the first game of the season looks something very much like this:
Projected XI against Real Betis: