Opposition spotlight – Real Madrid

The opponent

In the wake of all the drama surrounding La Liga’s new TV-deal, Valencia are preparing their orange and blue kits for an away game against one of the extremely few teams that would’ve undoubtedly preferred the split of the broadcasting money to stay the same. The Bernabéu awaits for a fixture that has brought us some incredibly entertaining football over the last few years. The last three final scores between the teams read 2-1, 2-2 and 2-3, so as we prepare for a thriller, let’s freshen up on our knowledge of Ancelotti’s Galacticos.

For Real Madrid, the mindset is the same every year – league title or bust. At the moment, they’re trailing their incredibly in-form Catalan rivals by two points. Provided Real win all their remaining games, as little as a draw for Barcelona would land the title in Madrid, as the Blancos have the the head-to-head advantage. However, with a combined goal-difference of 14-0 over their last two league games (17-0 if you include Messi’s recent slaughter of Boateng & Co.) it’s looking less and less likely that they will concede many more points this campaign.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty safe bet that without a home win this Saturday, Real Madrid’s 14/15 title bid will be as good as concluded.

What to expect

With at least a draw this weekend, Real will surpass Valencia as the league’s best home team on the season (currently 15-1-1, one game less played). So while it’s safe to say they’re a dominant side, they don’t do this on the solidity of their tactics, but rather on the mere strength of their incredibly stacked roster. It’s safe to say that, even having unloaded world class superstars like Mesut Özil and Ángel Di María, their squad is one of the best ever assembled in pure player quality numbers 1 through 11 (or 1 through 18, or 1 through 25).

So why don’t they always play like it? This past Wednesday night, all of football Europe sat and watched Ancelotti’s men at times get picked apart by a calm, organised Juventus side with a clear strategy. And to me, that’s exactly what Real Madrid lack. A clear game plan. To me, they’re not a collective, and while they know exactly what they’re out there to do (score goals, concede fewer, and ultimately win – duh), they don’t have a defined plan in mind for how to consistently do it.

An attack that really needs no introduction is lead by the enigma that is recent Ronaldo. This year, he hasn’t been the dynamic left-sided presence with a fetish for dribbling that he used to be, but rather he’s transformed into a ‘raumdeuter’ type that drifts around in space from his position on the wing, much like a wide poacher. I call him an enigma because I struggle to identify just what he is at this stage in his career, but it’s probably somewhat misleading, because he’s still as consistent and frequent as anyone has ever been in how often he ends up on the scoresheet. Looking only at stats, it’s like he hasn’t changed a bit.

Even so, he doesn’t contribute much defensively. The same goes for Bale on the other wing, granted he doesn’t seem to contribute much period these days. This means that, even with the presence of the lovably hard-working Javier Hernández up front, any attempt at pressing from the front is futile – and so they don’t really try.

I won’t delve much deeper into their tactics because I’m short on time, and because I really don’t find there to be all that much to delve into. So, in short: They defend ordinarily. They attack ordinarily. They just do so a lot better than most because they are just that – a lot better than most.

Possible Real Madrid lineup for Saturday.

I expect to see a 4-3-3 formation with a very attacking central midfield, as is customary. Chicharito will likely start in the #9 position between the two wingers, filling in for the actual #9, Benzema, who’s likely on the bench, having just recovered from a minor injury.

I’m guessing Ramos will be moved back to his left CB spot after failing to impress as a defensive midfielder at Juventus Stadium (Stadio delle Alpi sounded so much better, right?), likely demoting Varane onto to the bench.

If I’m Nuno…

…I focus on the fundamentals. Stay strong throughout, remain structured and remain focused for 90 minutes. If I am to plan any specifics, I might try to press Casillas when he’s got the ball in his feet. If we can force him to be (even more) inaccurate in his distribution, we’ll likely be given a few extra possessions that way.

I might want to set up an attack that accommodates this, and that also caters well to rapid counters, as RM often tend to leave a lot of space behind them when in an established attack. This could be amplified if they do end up leaving their fastest defender, Varane, out of the XI.

Oh, and, Ancelotti? Gayà says hi.

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