Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
August 18, 2013; 20:00 GMT
The arrival of Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid has brought a much needed sense of calm in the Santiago Bernabeu camp. Last season’s was a difficult campaign for Los Blancos and pretty much every effort and decision made by the club this summer has been intended solely in one direction; right the wrongs of a chaotic campaign and firmly put the bad year behind.
The signings, both in the managerial as well as the first team departments, have appeared well informed and far-sighted and have lifted the morale of the Real Madrid faithful. Il Carletto is undoubtedly one of the best managers in the world, having proven his mettle across Europe and is one of those very few who can be trusted to handle big egos as well as manage exceptional talents; a common aspect of the Real Madrid dressing room.
The arrival of Isco and Illarra is being seen as a deliberate departure from the Galactico era and uniting a young Spanish core that will see through a transition in the coming years. The situation with Cristiano Ronaldo also seems to have boiled down a bit and it looks that the Portuguese will be staying after all and Gareth Bale could yet come aboard too. In perspective, La Liga season 2013-14 looks highly promising and the Real Madrid faithful could not possibly be chided for pinning great hopes on this squad and its manager.
As yet another season kicks off in earnest, the Ancelotti Era will begin and Real Madrid can hope to achieve what they have been attempting to do for some time; establish a firm foothold in La Liga, in a manner that, in the strictest sense of terms, is worthy of Real Madrid.
Team News, Tactics & Lineups
One of the best players for Real Madrid last season, Raphael Varane, will miss the first game of the new season through an injury while new signing Asier Illarramendi is not yet match fit. Also Xabi Alonso is yet to recover from a groin injury. Apart from the trio, Ancelotti will have a full squad to choose his first starting XI from and the Italian will have a few pleasant selection headaches.
On account of this being the first game of the season, Ancelotti is certain to start captain Iker Casillas in goal for Real Madrid although Diego Lopez more than proved his worth last season and it will be interesting to see how Carlo wriggles through this situation in the coming weeks. For now, a fresh start will certainly boost Casillas’s morale after a particularly harrowing campaign last season.
There has also been much talk of Dani Carvajal making his second debut for Real Madrid and getting the nod ahead of Arbeloa. It would not be stretching it too far to say that Carvajal had an excellent campaign at Bayer Leverkusen and Ancelotti will be making a bold impression should he choose to start with the young Spaniard, who is also very useful going forward. With injuries and departures, the rest of defence pretty much selects itself. Ramos and Pepe will partner in the centre of defence while Marcelo will start as the left-back.
As far as tactics and formations go, the back four is going to be about the only remnant from Mourinho’s time. Carlo Ancelotti’s preference for a midfield diamond for his teams is well known and he has been looking at options by tinkering around with formations in the pre-season. However, he could yet stick to the familiar 4-2-3-1, that started and won last week against Chelsea, albeit with a few variations of his own. Khedira and Alonso were the preferred holding midfielders under Mourinho’s Real Madrid but strong performances from Modric and Casemiro could challenge that in the coming days.
For the game against Betis, Modric is more than likely to partner Khedira in the holding role. Casemiro will have to wait for his chance, which will surely come soon after his thrilling performances in the pre-season. For the attacking trio, Ozil will lay out wide on the right, as he has done in the pre-season while Isco will play through the middle. The German will have to adapt to a new position as Isco has looked increasingly sublime in ‘No. 10’ role and after not so satisfying a season last time around, atleast early on Ancelotti might be more willing to have Isco play in his preferred position. Cristiano Ronaldo is another one of those who had an excellent pre-season and will start on the left of the attacking trio.
During pre-season, Isco and Ronaldo frequently exchanged positions on the field and, naturally, Ozil drifted inside quite a few times as well. With Ancelotti advocating more focus on possession than moving the ball ahead, this could turn out to be a very dynamic trio, creating all sorts of problems for the opposition.
Up ahead, after Higuain’s departure and only his only competitor for the spot being Alvaro Morata, Benzema will lead the line for Real Madrid.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casillas(GK); Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Khedira, Modric; Ozil, Isco, Ronaldo; Benzema
Real Betis coach Pepe Mel has already declared “We will be ready to win there”, setting the tone for Ancelotti’s maiden fixture at Real Madrid. Real Betis have managed to cause Real Madrid some real problems since their return to the top flight. Last season they beat Real Madrid 1-0 early in the season, a period of time when Los Blancos essentially lost La Liga.
Hoping to do the same this time, Los Verdiblancos will however be missing arguably their best player and highest goal-scorer for last three seasons, Ruben Castro. The fact that Betis finished 7th last season, was in small part due to Castro’s efforts. Eder Vilarchao and Juan Carlos are a doubt too.
Betis could be expected to lie-up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Stephan Andersen will be in goal, assisted by a back four of club captain Nacho on the right, Damien Perquis and Paulao in the heart of defence and Javier Chica on the left. Nigerian Nosa Igiebor and Javier Matilla will form the holding midfield pivot, for an attacking trio of Joan Verdu, Juanfran through the middle and Cedric Mabwati on the left.
Juanfran moved to Andalusia only this summer on a free transfer from Real Madrid. The young Spaniard could never get his career kick-started at the Bernabeu and would be hoping to give one back to his former employers, which could make for an interesting battle. In absence of Ruben Castro, Jorge Molina would lead the line.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Andersen(GK); Nacho, Perquis, Paulao, Chica; Nosa, Matilla; Verdu, Juanfran, Cedric; Molina
- Real Madrid had an excellent pre-season, winning 6 out of 7 fixtures, including against Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.
- Real Madrid have scored at least 2 goals in their last 18 home matches in La Liga.
- Real Madrid have won their last 11 home matches in La Liga.
- Real Betis have failed to win 9 of their last 10 away matches in La Liga.
Player to watch out for
Isco (Real Madrid)
Great hopes have been pinned on the young Spanish U-21 international, and in all probability Isco will be making his official Real Madrid debut on Ancelotti’s first game in charge at Real Madrid. He has already shown why Los Blancos went all out to make him theirs, with his sparkling performances in the Euro U-21 and then during pre-season. Watch out for him as he attempts to establish himself among the pantheon of the greats who have worn the famous all-white of Real Madrid.
Real Madrid 3-1 Real Betis
For all of Real Betis’s strengths, this should not be a difficult fixture for Real Madrid. Granted this is the first game under a new coach, but the home team has enough talent and experience to see this one through. With all due respect, there will be tougher fixtures ahead for Real Madrid.