Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has been busy making tweaks and trying to find the winning combination at all levels of his squad. This weekend’s 4-4-2 with a grand total of four center midfielders was a clear miss, and the resulting 2-1 loss to Espanyol means that Ancelotti can have no illusions about this formation. It belongs in the trash.
Although Ancelotti has done a fantastic job of getting attacking players to find their confidence and has helped Real put together some brilliant offensive performances, the main criticisms of his work have been a poor defense and a lack of organization in midfield.
So far, Ancelotti has used a variety of combinations in defense, which is somewhat down to injury. Dani Carvajal suffered another setback recently, while Ferland Mendy remains out with a tricky leg issue. We have seen Nacho Fernandez at every defensive position, David Alaba at center back and left back, and Miguel Gutierrez and Lucas Vazquez drifting in and out of the XI. Seemingly only Eder Militao’s position has been a constant.
It’s clear that if everyone is healthy, a back four of Ferland Mendy, David Alaba, Eder Militao, and Dani Carvajal is the optimal setup, from left to right. That arrangement gives Real Madrid its best defensive stability, with Alaba and Carvajal providing clear danger as passers.
Miguel Gutierrez, Lucas Vazquez may have to start
Carvajal, however, probably won’t be back for a few more matches. Mendy’s status remains uncertain, too. The fullback situation has been a source of a lot of defensive problems for Ancelotti, and, therefore, the manager cannot shoulder the entire blame for the lapses.
If we consider these two players unavailable after the break when Shakhtar Donetsk awaits in the Champions League, then the fullback positions will have to be occupied by Miguel Gutierrez and Lucas Vazquez.
I know Vazquez is not a favorite of many Madridistas, since his positional awareness at right back leaves a lot to be desired. But he is better than the alternatives. He works hard, his defending in the tackle is actually quite good, and he can provide the attacking thrust necessary for a right back at Real Madrid.
Miguel shares these qualities of hard work and attacking verve, with the additional positive that he is a technically superior player to Vazquez. There is no issue with starting Miguel at left back, given there are very few left backs in LaLiga who can say they are significantly better than the 20-year-old.
While Real lose Mendy’s defensive security, they do gain a better crosser and creator in Miguel. Why Ancelotti keeps taking Miguel out of the lineup, I cannot tell you. It makes no sense. And it is not as if Alaba or, especially, Nacho, have shown more defensive solidity specific to the left-hand side either.
Nacho’s place in the starting lineup, as you can see, has come to an end. He is a great backup center back and can be a fullback in an emergency, if the formation then becomes unbalanced to accommodate Nacho’s specific strengths and weaknesses. But otherwise, it is time to move on. Mendy, Alaba, Militao, and Carvajal are the ideal starters, with Miguel and Vazquez slotting in on the flanks when the top fullbacks are out.