Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid will be travelling to Manchester on Tuesday to face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the first leg of the semifinals of the Champions League. Man City and Madrid have a recent history in the Champions League, with City knocking Madrid out most recently in the Round of 16 in the 2019/20 season. Ancelotti will certainly look to that result to help him make some key decisions heading into this tie. Here are the 3 biggest tactical decisions Ancelotti must make for the first leg:
Who should be Real Madrid’s right winger?
The least certain position in the XI all season has undoubtedly been the right-wing. Marco Asensio, Rodrygo, and Federico Valverde have all gotten significant minutes at RW. Despite scoring against Osasuna on Wednesday, Asensio appears to be the third option behind Valverde and Rodrygo at the moment, and for good reason.
Despite having a slow start to the season, Rodrygo has been impactful at the RW position as of late. After coming on against Chelsea in the second half of the second leg of the Quarterfinals of the Champions League, he scored the equalizer that sent the tie to extra time. He was also instrumental after coming on at halftime in the 3-2 comeback victory against Sevilla last Sunday as he scored one and assisted another. Rodrygo’s runs into the box and ability to take on defenders from the right side have made Madrid’s attack much more dangerous, well-rounded, and less reliant on Vinicius.
Valverde is an unorthodox option at RW, but he appears to be Ancelotti’s preferred option on the wing at the moment as he started both legs against Chelsea, and against Sevilla there. Valverde acts in some sense as a fourth midfielder, patrolling the entirety of the right-hand side of the pitch. He brings an intensity and directness that the KCM midfield lacks and has made Madrid much more able to cope with the physicality of top sides like Chelsea.
The downside to playing Valverde on the wing is that it makes the attack much more one dimensional, as everything must run through Vinicius on the left. In the first half of the first leg against Chelsea, this strategy worked well, as Vinicius got past Christensen all half long. But, when Reece James, someone with the physical tools to match Vinicius’ pace, was moved to right-centre-back at halftime of the first leg and stayed there for the remainder of the tie, Madrid’s attack was noticeable less dangerous.
The fitness of Kyle Walker will be key in Ancelotti’s decision. The Right Back picked up a knock against Atletico Madrid in the Quarterfinals and his status for the first leg is uncertain. If Walker is fit, Ancelotti may want to start Rodrygo. As Walker is a top defender with elite pace to match Vinicius on the left. Rodrygo would give the attack another outlet and ask more questions of City’s defense. However, if Walker is not fit, Ancelotti may start Valverde and not hesitate to rely on Vinicius to carry the offense. Valverde’s intensity could be key to winning the ball back against this elite City side.