No defender? No problem at Real Madrid


Despite a macre of injuries among its central defenders, Real Madrid, which travels to Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday, is reinventing itself brilliantly. The Frenchman Aurélien Tchouameni is the first concerned.

Many coaches would shout at a press conference, brandish this as an excuse, tear their hair out. Not the imperturbable Carlo Ancelotti. Saturday, Real Madrid corrected his runner-up in the Spanish championship, Girona (4-0), with a central defense made up of Dani Carvajal, right back, and Aurélien Tchouameni, midfielder. A hinge of fortune with which Real won what will perhaps remain the turning point of the La Liga season, where the Merengue are now 5 steps ahead in the lead.

However, there were reasons to sweat profusely in Valdebebas, the Madrid district where Real’s training center is located. Eder Militao suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the first day of La Liga on August 12. David Alaba suffered the same serious injury in December. Antonio Rüdiger injured his left thigh last week, just before Girona, while Nacho was also out with muscle pain.

Tchouameni, “looks like he has played 400 matches” in defense

Ancelotti then cited Carvajal, but also the French Ferland Mendy and Eduardo Camavinga as emergency solutions in central defense. “The three give me confidence, declared the Italian coach. In my opinion, the job of a central defender is the easiest in football, because above all you have to use your head. All three can do it.” Mendy, left back, and Camavinga, midfielder, ultimately remained faithful to their “real” position.

Carvajal, 32 years old and 400 matches under the clock in the white tunic, used his experience to hold on. Tchouameni, who had already started two matches in the axis this season, “looked like he played 400 at that position”, exclaimed Ancelotti. Their few risky clearances on Girona’s too-timid incursions into the Madrid camp were enough to ensure a clean sheet, which can also be explained by the felling of a great Toni Kroos, captain placed in front of the defense.

Ancelotti, trusted broadcaster in Madrid

Beyond the pure technical-tactical aspect, Ancelotti, 64 years old, one of the greatest coaches in the history of football, twice winner of the Champions League with Real (2014 and 2022), offers a new lesson of management in this period of slaughter. “We do not plan to recruit a central defender”he announced on January 3 at the opening of the winter transfer window, reiterating his confidence in Rüdiger and Nacho. “Tchouameni and Carvajal can feature well in an emergency”he already predicted.

Carlo Ancelotti still manages Real Madrid masterfully.
ISABEL INFANTES / REUTERS

It is with this serenity of all moments that Real won its last C1, in 2022a year after Ancelotti’s return to the club, and after turning things around against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City. “I do what I can, I try to get the best out of the team, explained Ancelotti last week. This group keeps me incredibly motivated, I have a lot of respect for them (the players).”

Winner of the Spanish Super Cup in January, eliminated from the Copa del Rey and in control of La Liga, Real can dedicate a large part, if not all of its energy to the Champions League. A stopover in Leipzig on Tuesday (9 p.m.), in the round of 16 first leg, awaits him. The German club, fifth in the Bundesliga, has not gone beyond this stage since the Final 8 in Lisbon in 2020, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. “For me, Real are always favorites” to the coronation, Camavinga estimated before the start of the European campaign in September. At least it seems, again and again, unsinkable.



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