The fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale is the major doubt for Carlo Ancelotti in deciding how Real Madrid will line up against Bayern Munich on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie.
Ronaldo has missed Madrid’s last four matches with knee and hamstring problems, but he underwent an intensive extra day of training on Sunday, as per AS, and then completed a full training session on Monday.
It would clearly be a huge boost for Madrid if Ronaldo was to return. He is their top scorer in both domestic and European competition this season and is, as per UEFA, just one goal away from beating the all-time record for most goals in one European Cup/Champions League campaign. The record is currently jointly held by himself, Jose Altafini and Lionel Messi.
Tucked away at the end of Madrid’s press release regarding Ronaldo was the news that Bale had missed Monday’s session after coming down with the flu.
Bale, who scored the wonder goal (see below) that won Madrid the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona last week, was likely to form part of a front three with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Ancelotti will be forced to seek alternative options if the Welshman is unavailable.
Isco, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Monday, had been set to return to the bench, but he may have a role to play if either Bale or Ronaldo fail to make the starting XI. Another option would be to move Angel Di Maria forward from central midfield onto one of the flanks, although his energy would probably be put to better use in disrupting Bayern’s midfield rhythm.
In the likely case that Ancelotti opts for a 4-3-3 formation on Wednesday, Di Maria will be joined in the midfield three by Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric. Casemiro proved himself an able destructor of play during his brief cameo in the second leg of the quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund, but he lacks the necessary experience to be entrusted with a starting role in a fixture of such magnitude.
Ancelotti’s central core of defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso and centre-backs Pepe and Sergio Ramos struggled to deal with the speed and movement of Dortmund’s attackers during the quarter-final, becoming particularly ragged during the second leg in Germany.
Both Alonso and Ramos were booked during the match, with Alonso perhaps fortunate not to receive a second yellow card after committing, as per Squawka, a couple of other fouls inside the half Madrid were defending.
With Alonso’s place in the starting XI relatively secure, the introduction of Raphael Varane in place of Pepe would be another way of injecting some additional pace and power into the side. Varane has, however, not enjoyed a particularly successful season, struggling for both form and fitness, and was very unsure in the defeat away at Sevilla last month.
It would certainly represent a big risk for Ancelotti to pick Varane ahead of his most experienced central defender.
Marcelo has been out of action since the 1 April, and although he is expected to return to the squad for Wednesday’s match, Fabio Coentrao remains the favourite, as per Marca.com, to line up at left-back.
In line with the rotation scheme Ancelotti has instituted this season, cup goalkeeper Iker Casillas will retain his place between the sticks, with league goalkeeper Diego Lopez on the bench. It will, as per Marca.com (in Spanish), be the first time Casillas has played in consecutive matches since December.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Iker Casillas, Daniel Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao; Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo