It has been an unusual summer in the Spanish capital—for the Real Madrid-supporting side of it at least.
Instead of arm-waving debates about town around which player is in or out with the manager or whether Cristiano Ronaldo is better than Leo Messi, the talk has been of a distinctly tactical nature.
New signings at the back, in midfield and up front, as well as a replacement coach on the bench, have left one or two open questions as to how Real Madrid will shape up in the new season.
Fully fit and in top form, here is an idea of the chosen XI of Real Madrid’s new Italian manager.
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas
One bold prediction to make is that Carlo Ancelotti is not going to be picking playground scraps in the dressing room, as was Jose Mourinho’s way at the end of his tenure. Well, not for the first weeks of the season, anyway. Barring any possible loss of form or nasty accidents when cleaning out blocked waste disposal units, Casillas will be starting in goal for Real Madrid. Diego Lopez is going to be the new Antonio Adan, which is a bit of a shame as the Spanish keeper is far too good for that bench-squatting role.
Right-back: Dani Carvajal
At the beginning of the summer, this would have been a controversial decision: talented rookie ousts long-standing World Cup winner from the starting line-up. But then Madrid fans and Ancelotti got to see what Carvajal offered on the right flank compared to the struggling Alvaro Arbeloa—speed, dynamism and attacking intent.
Centre-back: Raphael Varane
A knee injury may see the Frenchman missing the early weeks of the season due to playing catch-up in terms of fitness. However, Varane is sure to be a near permanent fixture alongside Sergio Ramos with the 20-year-old being a favourite of both Mourinho and Ancelotti. Pepe may have restored some credit to his reputation after a tranquil preseason for Real Madrid; however, it is the most talented young defender in the world who will always win in a toss-up between the two.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos
Starting his ninth season with Real Madrid, the blond bombshell will cut a considerably more contented figure than last year. Ramos was one of those who fell into the anti-Mourinho camp, having being dropped on the odd occasion and perhaps being disappointed by the former manager giving up too early on the title last season. One ambition from Ramos will be to avoid a red card in the new campaign for the first time in his Real Madrid career.
This is choice that may well be made by a process of elimination by the start of the season. Fabio Coentrao is an expensive, very marketable substitute and could well be moved out over the next weeks. This will leave the often-underrated Marcelo as left-back with Denis Cheryshev, newly promoted from the youth team, and even Alvaro Arbeloa as more than capable back-ups.
Midfielder: Sami Khedira
With a line-up that is set to be fairly creative and attacking, the German is going to be a near ever-present in the Real Madrid line-up. After all, Ancelotti is Italian so there will be a fair number of genes and what-not swimming about in the manager’s DNA, pushing the coach to plonk a footballer who qualifies as being slightly defensive-minded in the front of the back four.
Midfielder: Xabi Alonso
A fully fit and active Xabi Alonso is always going to be the chief puppet-master of Real Madrid, pulling the strings in midfield. In a nice way, of course, not in a evil, beard-stroking, plotting, conniving manner. However, there is going to be stiff competition for the spot with the ever-improving Luka Modric about, not to mention the ever-expensive Asier Illarramendi.
So far, Ancelotti seems to be leaning towards a three-man midfield, albeit with a lot of movement and interchanging with the front line. Isco will be the busy-body, scurry monster of the show, "putting in a shift" both defensively and in creating danger. The former Malaga man will also see a lot of playing time in the front three as well, lurking on left and right flanks.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ostensibly a forward, but according to Carlo Ancelotti’s tactical thoughts, Ronaldo is going to have free range around the pitch without any kind of defending to be done. Pretty much the same position as the previous "Ronaldo" incarnation, to be fair, although the Portuguese version has actually got permission never to tackle back or enter his own half.
Forward: Mesut Ozil
The arrival of Isco has certainly been a challenge to Ozil’s supremacy as the playmaker, but the German has done absolutely nothing to deserve being relegated to the bench or jammed out wide. When it comes to standing about at kick-off, Madrid’s assist king will be to the right of Benzema, but Ozil is going to be all over the shop, selflessly helping out his teammates with assists and what-not.
Forward: Karim Benzema
A huge year for the Frenchman is on the cards if the big guy can get his act together. Benzema deserves to be listed alongside the likes of Falcao by pundits as "a top, top striker" in terms of ability. It is just that consistency and application have been lacking over the past four campaigns at the Santiago Bernabeu. No more Gonzalo Higuain around to get in Benzema’s way also means no more excuses for the French international not to perform to his potential.