Over the weekend, their two title rivals—Atletico Madrid and Barcelona—both slipped up to hand them a three-point advantage at the top of the table. They recently qualified for the Copa del Rey final, and now, as Marca put it on Tuesday morning, “the giant has returned."
That giant is indeed Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Ballon d'Or winner, sent off against Athletic Bilbao, has just completed a three-match suspension in La Liga, and he is certain to be pulling on the white shirt against Sami Hyppia’s side in the European Cup.
He scored nine goals in five group matches but has been overtaken as the top scorer in the competition by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has 10. The Portuguese international will be keen to move back ahead of the Swede.
With Carlo Ancelotti unlikely to shift from his 4-3-3 formation anytime soon, Ronaldo is likely to be joined by Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the front three.
Jese Rodriguez has enjoyed a fantastic year so far, but Bale’s wonder strike in the weekend’s win over Elche should be enough to see him given the nod ahead of the 20-year-old, who is likely to feature off the bench.
At the other end of the pitch, Iker Casillas, who this week tipped Madrid for an historic treble, per Marca, will resume his role as the club’s cup ‘keeper. Diego Lopez will drop out of the side.
In defence, Ancelotti now has the benefit of three fit central defenders: Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Despite Varane’s encouraging return to the starting XI in recent weeks, the Italian will presumably rely on the experience of the other two.
At right-back, a pattern seems to be emerging similar to the situation in the Madrid goal. Dani Carvajal seems to play league games, with Alvaro Arbeloa participating in the Copa del Rey and Europe. He’ll be favourite to start in Germany.
Marcelo, after a slight knock, should return to play at left-back. If he’s not deemed ready to start, Fabio Coentrao could fill in or Arbeloa could move to across, allowing Carvajal to start on the right of the back four.
Sami Khedira remains the only notable absentee, while Luka Modric, who was banned for the visit of Elche, will return in midfield.
The Croatian has been one of Madrid’s most consistent performers this season, and his presence is seemingly as assured as anyone else in Ancelotti’s side.
Asier Illarramendi, who scored at the weekend, will drop out of the side to accommodate the former Spurs midfielder’s return to the side, with Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso therefore continuing in the middle of the park.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, Angel di Maria; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
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