4 Selection Decisions Facing Carlo Ancelotti Ahead of El Clasico
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
El Clasico is nearly upon us.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo. Gerardo Martino vs Carlo Ancelotti. However you'd like to bill it, it's pretty exciting stuff.
After dropping their first points of the season last week, Barcelona will be hoping to re-open the gap to six ahead of their rivals from the Bernabeu.
Conversely, a win for Real could send Ancelotti's side to the top. Quite a feat considering the indifferent nature of their start to the season.
But how will the Italian set his side up to plunge into action at the Nou Camp?
Here are four selection decisions facing Ancelotti ahead of the biggest game in world football on Saturday night.
Conservative or Aggressive in Midfield
Whilst Barcelona are not quite the outrageous Tiki-taka force in midfield they were a year or so ago, you'd still expect Ancelotti to have some attempt at clogging the centre of the pitch in order to deprive the Xavi's and Andres Iniesta's of this world any space.
Whilst Xabi Alonso is closing in on a first team return, it would take some real bravery from Ancelotti to launch him straight back in at the Nou Camp on Saturday. So without the Spaniard, Sami Khedira is surely a certainty to start, as his El Clasico experience will be vital.
But who will play alongside him? After a tricky start to his Madrid career, Asier Illarremendi has looked quietly impressive starting alongside Khedira in the last couple of games and could be entrusted again here.
Ancelotti could go with the same midfield triangle with which he started against Juventus in midweek, playing Luka Modric just ahead of Illarremendi and Khedira. That would probably be the most conservative thing he could do in an attempt match Barcelona and with them in midfield.
However, that would require leaving out Isco. The Spanish starlet didn't start against Juventus but has started every league game so far.
The youngster has played in a variety of positions so far this season. He began the campaign a little deeper in midfield before the departure of Mesut Ozil, but since then he has been switched between being the most advanced central midfielder or playing wide left when Ancelotti has experimented with sticking Ronaldo upfront.
If Isco does start, you can imagine he will be desperate to start his first ever El Clasico in his favoured central position.
Where to play Ronaldo
But the role of Isco will probably come down to the utilization of Ronaldo. It is extremely unlikely that Ancelotti will go with two upfront. He tried it against Atletico Madrid a few weeks ago and frankly it was a bit of a disaster.
There is, though, a possibility that he could play Ronaldo upfront on his own and Isco from the left so that he can utilize all three of his potential central midfield options. Karim Benzema has started the season relatively well but hasn't exactly made himself irreplaceable in that role.
You can be certain, however, that Ronaldo will want to play on his favoured left, and you can be even more certain that he will probably get his way. He has a very good recent El Clasico record in that position, and loves the battle with Dani Alves down that side of the pitch.
If that is the case, then Isco will either be played centrally with either Modric or Illarremendi being sacrificed, or he will start from the bench for the first time this season in La Liga.
Angel di Maria should start wide right. Having appeared surplus to requirements at one stage he has forced his way back into Ancelotti's plans, providing an invaluable balance to his side that is sorely lacking when the Argentine is not on the pitch.
And he certainly looks a better bet to start then the man who was possibly bought to replace him...
There is the smallest of chances that Ancelotti will have considered Gareth Bale's injury problems a blessing in disguise.
Since his world record move, Bale has started just the one game for his new side, away to Villarreal in mid-September. Even though he managed to get on the score sheet, he simply didn't look fit and Real Madrid looked an utter mess with him in the side.
If the Welshman was fit and ready to start, Ancelotti would realistically have to play him. The powers that be would not be best pleased if a fully fit, £85 million signing was on the bench for the biggest game in world football.
With Bale still not ready to start, Ancelotti can use him as an impact player from the bench, alleviating himself from the worry of having to fit him into his side for such a big game, and saving his player from the ignominy of having to be brought off after an hour after failing to make an impact.
The issue of how to use Gareth Bale from the start can be a problem saved for another day.
Not exactly a selection drama, but there is still an interesting dilemma at right-back for Ancelotti.
Alvaro Arbeloa or Daniel Carvajal?
The Italian has flitted between the two all season and it essentially again boils down to whether he decides to be conservative or aggressive with the team he selects to start the match.
The differences between what Arbeloa and Carvajal provide are fairly obvious. Arbeloa will be the safer, more cautious and experienced option who will defend astutely and rarely venture forward. Carvajal will provide youth, energy and attacking exuberance down the right side of the pitch.
In fact, whilst there are so many attacking dilemmas facing Ancelotti ahead of this game, this selection could tell us more than any other about the approach he is going to take into his first ever El Clasico.
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