Ancelotti greeted with embarrassment of riches for Betis opener

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

The embarrassment of riches at Real Madrid's disposal this season becomes ever clearer as you start to ponder just how Carlo Ancelotti will line his men up for their La Liga opener against Real Betis at the Bernabeu on Sunday night.

Carletto described his Blancos squad as the best he's ever worked with and it's easy to see why given the additions to a squad that was already packed with talent from back to front. The only problem the Italian will have is just who to leave out of his starting 11, and that's not a bad problem to have; a selection headache that is extremely welcome.

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So it'll be interesting to see just who Ancelotti goes with for his first competitive match at the helm. Managers usually tend to field their favoured starting eleven for the season opener, a sign of intent for the season ahead, laying down a marker, etc. No need for players to be rested, just a need to get off to the best possible start.

There are question marks all over the park and, again, in a good way. Will Iker Casillas or Diego Lopez start in goal? Will Ronaldo play in his favoured position on the left side of Madrid's attack or will he play just off Karim Benzema? Where will Isco fit in? Does Ancelotti go with Sami Khedira or Casemiro? Where do youngsters Alvaro Morata and Jese fit in?

All these options are with a number of big players set to miss Sunday's opener through injury. Raphael Varane has returned to training but will miss out through a knee injury, while Xabi Alonso is not yet ready for a return, nor is his fellow Basque and big-money summer addition Asier Illarramendi. Pepe reported back to the Spanish capital from international duty in midweek with a knock, but the Portugal defender should be fine to partner Sergio Ramos in the heart of the defence.

To have players of that ilk unavailable for action and still have a number of top quality alternatives shows the quality and depth of Madrid's squad this season. All areas are well covered; even more so than last season.

Madrid's style for the majority of the last three seasons under Jose Mourinho was the 4-2-3-1 formation -- suited to counterattack and not so much a possession-based game. That could well come into the equation this season, but it looks more likely that Ancelotti will deploy a four-man midfield on Sunday, and for the majority of the campaign, given its usage over the preseason. It is a style more suited to keeping the ball, making more passes, frustrating the opposition, but still with the useful threat of a quick, lethal counterattack.

Isco has been used on the left of the four and Mesut Ozil on the right, and seems to be the favoured choice of Ancelotti for Sunday. Many thought the young Spaniard would play down the middle for Los Blancos but his role seems likely to be out wide, similar to where he started with Malaga in a three-pronged midfield. He is left-footed, so a natural position, and can also drift inside. Crucially, he's not a winger and will play a big part in keeping the ball and aiding Madrid's new possession-based approach.

Similarly, Ozil is a master of keeping the ball and will act as a wide midfielder, often drifting inside and often fitting into the hole behind the attack as he played last season. This puts more emphasis on the Madrid fullbacks getting forward out wide to stretch the pitch, offer different options and create more space in the middle.

With Illarramendi and Alonso not yet fit to feature, Ancelotti will have to pick between Sami Khedira, Luka Modric and Casemiro in the middle. A few weeks ago the selection would have been simple, with the class and experience of Khedira and Modric getting the nod, but the young Brazilian has caused a stir with some of his performances in preseason and has put himself very much in the frame for a shock inclusion, which would be at the expense of Khedira.

As mentioned, the fullback roles will be crucial should Madrid still go with the loose 4-4-2 (albeit interchangeable) formation. Marcelo is a shoe-in at left-back, but Alvaro Arbeloa and the returning Dani Carvajal will battle it out at right-back. Arbeloa has the experience but Carvajal looks a good option given his superior qualities going forward, something that will fit well with the new style and systems. Sergio Ramos and Pepe will start in the centre.

Up top is where it should be easy. The sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli means Karim Benzema's competition in attack comes in the form of Morata and Jese. While the young pair are expected to get more action this season, the Frenchman will be Ancelotti's main man in the No.9 role, and Ronaldo will have a bit of a free role playing just off him.

This is the first competitive game of the season, however, so expect some surprises thrown in there, whether it be in personnel or in formation. Ancelotti has switched his formation a number of times over the summer, be it for a full match or midway through a match, but the option of the four-man midfield looks the most likely. That could all change if a certain Mr. Bale arrives before the close of the transfer window, of course, but at the moment it should work just fine.

In Betis, Madrid has a favourable opening match of the season, especially on home soil. The Sevilla club has parted with many of last season's big players, including Benat, Jose Canas, Adrian and Alejandro Pozuelo. Ancelotti will be keen for a strong start and Madrid are are well capable of producing just that on Sunday night.

Just pick Iker, for his first league start since January, will you Carletto? We don't want all that again...


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