Having won their first four games of the new year, Carlo Ancelotti will be pleased with his team’s performances, especially since Real Madrid have plugged the loopholes in their defence and have kept four consecutive clean sheets this year. With Pepe and Ramos taking command at the centre, Real Madrid have managed to shake off their defensive concerns and have emerged as a defensively-strong unit, capable of keeping strikers at bay.
Three points behind league leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid have conceded a staggering 21 goals in 19 games, 10 more than city rivals Atletico Madrid and 9 more than Barcelona so far this season. With the second half of the season starting on 18th January, Ancelotti will be hoping for his defenders to keep the momentum going as the Los Blancos play catch up with their arch rivals.
Though Pepe and Ramos have proved themselves worthy of a starting spot in the team, the Italian manager is definitely missing the French prodigy, Raphael Varane. Storming into the scene last year with his astute performances and goal-scoring prowess, Varane had became a fan-favourite after playing a crucial role in Madrid’s turbulent campaign last year. Sidelined due to a knee-injury in May last year, Varane made a brief return in October which lasted around a month. Though he was expected to be back with the first team squad this January, the Frenchman is still undergoing the recovery process. Amidst growing concerns, Varane has made a return to the gym and has been training indoors with the Real Madrid medical team and it remains to be seen if he can make a quick return to the playing eleven to ease the burden on Pepe and Ramos.
Injury concerns have plagued Real Madrid’s defence this season with Marcelo and Coentrao alternating their brief disappearances. Marcelo picked up a strain which saw him sit out the Cup tie against Osasuna on Wednesday but is expected to make a comeback soon. Meanwhile Coentrao returned to the first teamon Wednesday after nearly two months but went on to pick up two yellow cards thus earning himself a suspension. While the Portuguese full-back has put up a strong resistance to Marcelo’s dominance on the left plank, lack of playing time coupled with injury concerns have limited his growth as a player. Brought in from Benefica in 2011 for a hefty €30 million transfer, reports suggest that the Portuguese could be on his way out this January.
Playing second-fiddle to Marcelo, Coentrao has been linked with a move to Manchester United. It was reported that the left back was close to signing for the Red Devils last summer but talks broke down in the last minute. David Moyes is reportedly looking to add the Portuguese to his squad with a view to bolster his defence. Defensively sound and a threat while moving forward, Coentrao will be a valuable addition for David Moyes who is still waiting to find the right momentum for Manchester United. Though United captain Patrice Evra remains indispensable to the team, the ageing French full-back has shown himself to be prone to making errors. Evra links up well with his players but is no longer the threat he used to be. Defensively weak, he is often found lagging behind, leaving his marker with enough space to penetrate the United defence. Though Buttner was supposed to plug the gap and eventually take over from Evra, the full-back has not lived up to the expectations and has definitely failed to impress the new Scottish manager. Hence it is not surprising that David Moyes finds himself in the market, looking for a new full-back to add to his team. Reports suggest that Coentrao could move to Manchester on loan and the transfer will be officially sanctioned come summer. Meanwhile David Moyes has come out and reportedly denied these rumours, stating that Manchester United is not on the verge of signing the Portuguese full-back.
Though Ancelotti will miss the Portuguese’s contributions, especially since Marcelo has been fighting with his injury concerns, the manager will not be too keen to retain his services keeping in mind the youngsters in the squad. With Coentrao out of Madrid, Nacho will be expected to share the defensive burden after having proven himself to be up to the task with his performances in the past season and a half. Comfortable with different defensive positions, Nacho can be deployed on all the four different positions and has the ability to develop himself into one of the best defenders in the years to come.