We are fast approaching the start of a new La Liga campaign, and Real Madrid kick off the season on Sunday at home to Real Betis. It was a very successful preseason for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, managing six wins, one draw, and zero losses. Madrid also took down former boss José Mourinho and his new side Chelsea to win the Guinness International Champions Cup, whatever that’s worth. With so many quality players in the squad, Ancelotti will have a selection dilemma to sort all year long. Let’s take a look at who might line up in the XI against Betis.
We must take into account the plethora of international fixtures that occurred on Wednesday. Madrid had a total of 14 players called up for duty with their national teams, with Isco the only one not featuring on the pitch. Of the 13 others, about half went 90 minutes and everyone except Denis Cheryshev, who entered as a substitute but limped off 7 minutes later, played at least half the game. Long travel distances and the short rest means some players could be fatigued for Sunday, but Ancelotti is still likely to start a number of those who got significant minutes with their country yesterday.
This is the same lineup that MARCA reported on Monday as Ancelotti’s preferred XI. Based on preseason results and the games yesterday, I believe nothing has changed. In fact, events in yesterday’s games have reinforced Ancelotti’s thinking in areas where positions were up for grabs.
The main question mark here is Casemiro vs. Khedira, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Brazilian has the edge. Casemiro did not feature on Wednesday while Khedira played a full 90 minutes and had a blunder that led to Paraguay’s second goal. The German has also been on the fringe of Ancelotti’s plans all summer, and was reportedly offered by his agent to PSG this week. All signs point to Casemiro getting the nod.
Other players are more assured in their positions, but few are guaranteed. Here is the rundown for the rest of the lineup:
Attack: Karim Benzema had another goalless outing with France and was subbed off after 74 minutes, but is still above Álvaro Morata in the pecking order. Cristiano Ronaldo is in exceptional form and may be needed to pick up the goalscoring slack.
Midfield: Xabi Alonso has been training with the full squad but as of now Luka Modrić has won the position and should get the chance to start on Sunday. Ángel di María, who played most of the match for Argentina against Italy, appears to be slightly behind Mesut Özil and Isco, but this looks to be a fierce competition all season. Isco got his first call up with la selección but didn’t get off the bench against Ecuador. Özil played the entire game for Germany but is pretty much an unquestioned starter.
Defense: Marcelo has been a key player for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil team this summer and got a decent run against Switzerland, while Fábio Coentrão limped off at the end of Portugal’s match with Netherlands and reportedly wants out of Madrid. All of this means the Brazilian will start at left back. Raphaël Varane still hasn’t recovered fully from his knee injury while Pepe has had a solid summer, so he and Sergio Ramos should be just fine as the central pairing. Dani Carvajal starts over Álvaro Arbeloa because the latter played 90 minutes in Ecuador while the former is well-rested and had an excellent preseason.
Goalkeeper: As well as Diego López has played, it just seems impossible that Ancelotti would keep captain Iker Casillas on the bench after last season’s debacle. Casillas has also played well this summer, and will make his long-awaited return between the goalposts at the Bernabéu.
Madridistas are very optimistic heading into the season, and will surely hope there is no repeat of last year’s slow start. With a strong lineup ready to go, Ancelotti and crew should be able to kick things off with a win and all three points against Real Betis.