Predicting Real Madrid's Starting XI for 2014-15 La Liga Opener vs. Cordoba

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

Real Madrid players pose for a photo, ahead of the start of the Champions League final soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, at the Luz stadium, in Lisbon, Portugal, Saturday, May 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Real Madrid open their 2014-15 La Liga campaign on the weekend of August 24 with a clash against top-flight newcomers Cordoba at the Bernabeu. 

Despite capturing the club's 10th European title in May, Carlo Ancelotti will be eager to improve upon Los Blancos' underwhelming third-placed league finish behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona last season.

Interestingly, Real Madrid's activity in the summer transfer window will force the manager to tinker with his starting XI somewhat, making his selection options for the season opener extremely intriguing. 

Anticipating what Ancelotti may decide on, we've outlined our first-choice XI for Real Madrid's opening encounter with Cordoba below. 



BILBAO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 02:  Diego Lopez of Real Madrid CF looks on during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and real Madrid CF at San Mames Stadium on February 2, 2014 in Bilbao, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

It had initially been reported by AS that Costa Rican star Keylor Navas was closing in on a move from Levante to Real Madrid to bolster the club's goalkeeping stocks amid Iker Casillas' disastrous run of form.

After a superb campaign in La Liga in 2013-14, the 27-year-old was impressive at this summer's World Cup, increasing speculation that he'd quickly entrench himself as Ancelotti's first choice in goal should a move to the Bernabeu come to fruition.

But according to the latest update from AS, the widely reported move appears to be losing momentum:

Additionally, despite speculation over his future in Madrid, Diego Lopez's agent has insisted the goalkeeper will remain with Los Blancos for 2014-15, according to Goal.

With Navas' arrival in doubt, Lopez, who was the manager's primary option for Real Madrid's league campaign last season, appears the most likely candidate to start against Cordoba on the opening weekend of the season.


Back Four

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

Ancelotti's most used combination at the back last season comprised of Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Daniel Carvajal and Marcelo.

While that quartet seems the most likely to take their places in the manager's starting XI for Real's La Liga opener, there are other options available to Los Blancos' boss.

Now fully fit and coming off a strong campaign for France in Brazil, Raphael Varane could easily replace Pepe in the centre of the defence alongside Ramos.

Marcelo's extremely disappointing stint at the World Cup may have also given Ancelotti some concerns over his defensive reliability, perhaps opening the door for Fabio Coentrao. 

However, with the interrupted nature of the pre-season in the wake of the World Cup as players return to the squad at varying intervals, it's likely the manager will opt for familiarity in the season opener and deploy the same back four that was most regularly used last term. 



MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 22:  James Rodriguez waves to fans during his unveiling as a new Real Madrid player at the Santaigo Bernabeu stadium on July 22, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Real agreed to buy Rodriguez from AS Monaco for the next six seasons for an undisc
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Here's where it gets interesting, given Real's plethora of midfield options and the uncertain futures for a number of Los Blancos' stars. 

Ancelotti's first choice, of course, will be to decide upon the system he wants to deploy against Cordoba at the Bernabeu. 

Having acquired James Rodriguez from Monaco, one would think a switch to a 4-2-3-1 would best harness the Colombian's talents in his preferred No. 10 role. 

But as alluded to earlier, World Cup summers are vastly different from others: Players make staggered returns to the squad, scheduling recovery is as much of a priority as training, pre-season matches tend to feature less first-XI players (just look at Real Madrid's clash against Inter Milan) and the familiarisation process takes a little longer.

Therefore, while Ancelotti will be eager to make best use of his £63 million signing, it seems more likely that the Italian will keep his team's 4-3-3 in the search of continuity and ask the new additions to fit into the existing system. 

MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 17:  Toni Kroos waves to fans in his new Real Madrid shirt during his official unveiling at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on July 17, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Toni Kroos who won the World Cup with Germany in Brazil is Real Madrid's first si
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

So which three players will combine in a midfield trio?

After last season's somewhat sluggish start when trying to incorporate Gareth Bale's talents, Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the necessity to develop cohesion among his new players as quickly as possible.

Against a Cordoba outfit making their first top-flight appearance in 42 years, the manager will have no better opportunity than the season opener to deploy both Rodriguez and Toni Kroos in the same midfield of a 4-3-3.

With reports continuing to suggest Angel di Maria's future lies elsewhere, Rodriguez would be the natural choice to assume the Argentine's role, connecting the midfield and front three with hard running and adept interplay work. 

Joining the fresh faces is likely to be Luka Modric, the outstanding midfielder of Real Madrid's 2013-14 season. 

Of course, that triumvirate leaves the balance of Ancelotti's XI skewed well forward when you consider the inclination to attack for all three men. But their newly promoted opponents are unlikely to genuinely challenge the European champions for midfield control, meaning an aggressive trio can be deployed in relative safety. 



MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 02:  Karim Benzema (2nd L) of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their second goal with team-mates Sergio Ramos (2nd R), Cristiano Ronaldo (R) and Gareth Bale (L)during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano de Madrid and Real Ma
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

While the midfield and back four present selection issues for Carlo Ancelotti, the composition of his forward ensemble is extremely straightforward.

Easily the most devastating front three in Europe last term, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Bale will certainly take their places in Madrid's front line for the season opener.  

With the Frenchman playing the role of the central fulcrum, the devastating athletes that flank him on either side should simply overwhelm their inferior opponents on the opening weekend of the season. 


Predicted Starting XI for Season Opener vs. Cordoba (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: Diego Lopez

Defenders: Daniel Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo

Midfielders: Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez

Forwards: Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo


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