El Centrocampista

Finding the ideal back-four at Real Madrid

Real Madrid are showing impressive offensive form under Carlo Ancelotti’s reign so far. However, the Italian is struggling to find an ideal defense that would give the team his desired balance. Injuries, tiredness, and the arrival of new players have provided the press and fans alike with plenty of discussion about who should make up Madrid’s strongest back line.

The position where Ancelotti has had fewer problems to make a definitive decision is the left-back. Marcelo is arguably the best player of the world in that role, and whenever he’s fit Fabio Coentrao will have to warm the bench. The Brazilian not only carries out his defensive responsibilities superbly, but also becomes one of Real’s most dangerous offensive options when approaching the opponents’ box.

Coentrao has proved to be a good replacement. With Marcelo injured, he’s started four games this season, having satisfactory performances, especially in the defensive aspect. In fact, Real Madrid directors have put an end to the rumors of a possible exit by handing him a contract extension with a pay rise.

With the left-back perfectly covered –even Alvaro Arbeloa and Nacho Fernandez have performed successfully when both the Brazilian and the Portuguese have been sidelined– the main debate since the pre-season was whether youngster Daniel Carvajal or veteran Arbeloa should start at right-back.

The 21-year-old left his hometown club a year ago to get more minutes of play at Bayer Leverkusen. In the Bundesliga, he grew up to become one of the most promising Spanish players, being picked as the best right-back of the league and earning the chance to move back to the Santiago Bernabeu. His contribution at both ends of the field is always pleasing, and his good contributions in attack have even been compared to those of Marcelo.

On the other hand, when facing experienced wingers, Carvajal has shown some defensive weaknesses. Alvaro Arbeloa, despite not joining the attack so frequently and having weaker attacking qualities, is a real fighter who is always there to cover for his team mates’ mistakes. He’s a defensive guarantee when Marcelo is on the field, and he’s been a nightmare for world-class players such as Frank Ribery.

Leaving the full backs apart, Ancelotti is also having trouble in the centre of the defense. Sergio Ramos arrived from the Confederations Cup late and tired. Being unable to have a decent pre-season and forced to play due to Raphael Varane’s injury, he still hasn’t recovered his best shape.

Pepe, who started the season as the third choice, has become the only guaranteed starter, with Ramos putting in some poor performances and Varane still struggling with his knee problems. Youngster Nacho Fernandez has also performed well when Ancelotti has given him the chance to play, but he’s still too inexperienced for the Italian to trust him on a regular basis.

Real Madrid’s defensive line has been constantly changing so far this season. Presuming all players will arrive to their best state of shape at some point –although in Varane’s case that’s still a mystery– it’s hard to guess which back four Ancelotti will finally trust in the decisive stage of the season.

A centre-back pair formed by Ramos and Varane would be the logical decision, but Pepe has saved Los Blancos on many occasions this year, and if he maintains his best shape the Frenchman will have to fight hard to oust him from the starting eleven. Ramos, as one of the leaders of the team and one of the world’s best centre-halves, is guaranteed a spot when fully fit.

Playing Marcelo and Carvajal on the sides would possibly be the fans’ choice. However, with both having such an offensive profile, Ancelotti could look to Arbeloa to obtain the desired balance. Another option he has already tried, is lining-up two defensive midfielders like Xabi Alonso and Asier Illarramendi together, in order to cover the two full-backs attacking capabilities.

Then, if Illarramendi settles in the starting eleven, the defense Ancelotti will likely use in the decisive games of the Champions League and La Liga would be formed by Carvajal, Varane, Ramos and Marcelo. Arbeloa and Pepe will surely play a crucial role as well, given the frequency at which games are played as the season will finish earlier due to the World Cup.

Whoever ends up playing, the good news for Real is Ancelotti has an enviable number of options to combine in his defense, with a combination of young and experienced players that can bring Los Merengues back to the top this season.

Alejandro Gonzalez is the co-founder of Real Madrid News

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