Real Madrid: Breaking Down Their Formation and the Role of Each Player
Real Madrid face an incredibly tough task to reach the UEFA Champions League semifinals, and to progress they must first defeat an impressive Galatasaray side.
Jose Mourinho welcomes Gala to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg, and he will field his customary 4-2-3-1 formation that has made los Blancos so solid at home.
Iker Casillas is pushing for a starting spot in goal but Diego Lopez is widely considered the favorite to start, such is his good form. Every other position has a slide dedicated to it in an effort to explain each and every role the players play.
Marcelo has completed his return from injury and looks favourite to start in the left-back berth.
His attacking prowess surpasses many others, and despite Fabio Coentrao doing an admirable job in both legs against Manchester United, the Brazilian is Jose Mourinho's go-to guy.
Marcelo is far better going forward than defending, but Madrid is a little lopsided in attack anyway as Alvaro Arbeloa is the more careful of the two full-backs.
He links up well with his wide player and does a great job creating overloads on the flanks—a trait that could be particularly useful should Fatih Terim try the midfield diamond he did at the Veltins-Arena in the Round of 16.
Marcelo has the ability to pin a right-winger all the way back and lock him into his own half, creating sustained pressure for his side and gaining plenty of territory.
The only concern is the counterattack.
Pepe is preparing himself for one of the most almighty snubs—he doesn't expect to play due to 19-year-old Raphael Varane's incredible form (via Goal.com).
He's right to fear that eventuality, as the French teenager has been absolutely stunning on the field ever since he stepped in and played with regularity, starting with a 4-3 win over Real Sociedad in January.
The El Clasico wins have given the talented youngster immense confidence, and the timing of his challenges in particular is very impressive.
He'll be the deeper of the two very reserved centre-backs. When Real Madrid push they do so with all but three, and Varane will be the last line of the defence should Galatasaray spring a counterattack.
After earning his debut for France under Didier Deschamps, Varane will be rocking.
If there's been one constant in Real Madrid's defence this season, it's Sergio Ramos.
The Spaniard will take to the field and lead the defensive line against Galatasaray, talking the young Raphael Varane through the entire game.
At 27, Ramos has become the youngest player ever to gain 100 caps for la Furia Roja—a testament to his ability both centrally and at right-back.
He doesn't surge forward as often as he used to, but he will push into the centre and carry the ball when possible and remains a definitive threat from set pieces.
The one perceived weak link in Real Madrid's side is right-back—the position former Liverpool star Alvaro Arbeloa mans on a regular basis.
He is rarely used as an attacking outlet and stretches the pitch with his presence without receiving the ball too often. Angel Di Maria does a lot of the work on the right-hand side on his own, but the upside to his tentative nature is it gives los Blancos a more stable defensive base.
His teammates will often only pass to Arbeloa as a last resort, and while they don't ignore him to the extent the Spanish national side do, his limitations are clear.
But he's a defender first, and his ability to tackle and mark is still worthy of a squad such as Madrid's.
Xabi Alonso is Real Madrid's most important player.
Los Blancos stuttering and struggling to create has become synonymous with the nullification of their Spanish playmaker, and his lack of mobility stops him from evading his markers.
He was man-marked at Old Trafford by Danny Welbeck and became utterly useless, but when Nani was sent off and Welbeck moved to an auxiliary wide role, he gained his freedom.
He immediately started to dictate the game and fired inch-perfect passes to players in dangerous areas; Galatasaray have a very reactive manager in Fatih Terim and it would not be a surprise to see him try something similar.
Alonso will play in his deep-lying creative role and recycle possession, thread through-balls into channels and switch player with ease. Leave him unattended at your own risk.
Sami Khedira has become Jose Mourinho's reliable engine in midfield and represents the perfect compliment to Xabi Alonso's playmaking prowess.
Khedira is able on the ball, but is much better used as a biter and a shackler in the middle—his all-action style, so long as he retains his positional discipline, is difficult to keep up with and his energy creates space for Alonso to use.
The German can be a superb box-to-box threat and can pop up at the unlikeliest of times to finish from a ball into the area, and his timed runs from deep are an underrated asset.
His defensive skill set is equally important, providing a blanket of cover for his defence, but perhaps the best aspect of his play is his understanding with Alonso.
It is rare you will see a better holding midfield pivot, and their linkup and positional sense looks telepathic at times.
As steady and as disciplined as Jose Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 is, he makes an allowance for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese forward enjoys a free role coming in off the left-hand touchline, drifting around looking for the ball and finding shooting chances.
His roaming is the reason it's so important to maintain an attacking wide threat on the left in the form of a full-back, else Ronaldo dipping in would leave Real Madrid woefully narrow and lopsided.
The former Manchester United star often faces double- or even triple-team ploys to stop him, but rarely is he ever shut out from goal.
He will start touchline wide and look to stretch the defence, but if Galatasaray block him out, he will come into a centre-forward position or drop in near the No. 10 spot to find the ball.
Despite the championing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso, Mesut Oezil is one of the best playmakers in the world and has a massive impact on this team.
His role is versatile and changes according to the opposition, but one thing that never alters is his ability to find Ronaldo in goalscoring positions—their understanding is absolutely fantastic.
Oezil becomes the playmaker if Alonso is nullified, while his ability to drift wide helps him create favourable matchups for each of his wingers by overloading the flanks.
With a beautiful delivery and a great footballing brain he can hold onto the ball and sustain pressure outside the opposing side's penalty area with ease.
RW—Angel Di Maria
Opposite Cristiano Ronaldo is Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid's Argentine right-winger.
His form this season has been decent, and he always enjoys a one vs. one matchup due to teams worrying so much about his Portuguese counterpart.
As Alvaro Arbeloa often stays back, the battle to win the right side of the field is often a solo one for Di Marai, but Oezil drops off to the right more than the left to help create angles for passes and crosses.
The Argentine has a decent long shot, a good cross and a hearty commitment to beat his man and get to the byline—countless full-backs, including David Alaba and Patrice Evra, will testify to that.
The striking conundrum is a 50/50 decision for Jose Mourinho to make largely based on training at the start of the week.
The truth is, neither Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain have pulled up any trees this season, and in particular their UEFA Champions League form has bee off-colour.
Higuain had a good game at Old Trafford and played very well in the international fixture he took part in last week, though, while Benzema was booed off the pitch after reaching 1,000 minutes in a France shirt without scoring.
Confidence-wise, it's all about the Argentinian, but the decision between the two doesn't change the style of play. They both operate as poachers with a bit-part role in the buildup (such is Xabi Alonso's dominance), and unlike most central strikers in world football, they aren't the No. 1 source of goals.
Higuain's ability to occupy the central defenders and create room for others, however, will be very important.