Real Madrid have reached their best state of shape with the arrival of the new year. In 2014, Los Blancos have earned seven consecutive wins without conceding a single goal, and they’ve cut Barcelona’s and Atletico Madrid’s lead in La Liga to just one point.
However, this incredible run has caused many regular starters to show some signs of fatigue, especially last Saturday in the final minutes of the game against Granada.
For the first time in the season, Carlo Ancelotti repeated the same line-up in two consecutive La Liga matches when they visited Betis last week. Moreover, he started the same 11 men against Granada, making it three in a row.
The fact that most of these players have featured in seven games in only 20 days has made many fans wonder whether Ancelotti should rotate players more evenly or keep trusting his usual XI.
There are only two positions in the team that have benefited from rotations: the goalkeeper and the right-back. Diego Lopez and Iker Casillas fight for the starting role has made both perform at a very high level. For the moment, Ancelotti keeps on lining-up Lopez in La Liga and Casillas in the other competitions.
Meanwhile, Daniel Carvajal and Alvaro Arbeloa have also become an excellent pair for the right side of defence. The youngster seems to have got Ancelotti’s trust to feature in more important games, but Arbeloa has also put in decent performances when required.
On the left, Marcelo has been forced to play almost all the minutes due to Fabio Coentrao’s injury, but with the Portuguese perfectly fit, it seems that Ancelotti will let the Brazilian rest, at least in the Copa del Rey.
In the centre of defence, Pepe has reached a record, playing all the minutes so far this year, and becoming a guaranteed starter. Sergio Ramos has also played every game, but given his poor fitness was one of Real’s main problems at the beginning of the season, Ancelotti might start giving Nacho some minutes against weaker teams. As soon as Raphael Varane is completely recovered, the Italian will surely start rotating his three best centre-backs.
However, Ancelotti has more problems for finding quality options to give the midfield men some rest. Asier Illarramendi has proved to be a good replacement for Xabi Alonso, but with Sami Khedira still injured, the other two members of that three-men line will see very few options for getting some rest. In the case of Angel di Maria that’s not such a big problem, since he hasn’t played regularly until now and he’s got a prodigious physical fitness. But Luka Modric’s game could be affected by the lack of rest, and neither Casemiro nor Isco seem to have the profile Ancelotti seeks for that position.
Up-front, there is less to worry about. Cristiano Ronaldo can play all the minutes without seeing his game weaken. Moreover, he can feature in any of the three forward positions, giving rest to Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale when necessary. The Welshman injuries are the main concern for Ancelotti in that forward line, but Jese’s incredible performances have shown the youngster is ready to step up and become a starter when needed.
Real Madrid are not expected to make any signings in the January transfer market, so Ancelotti might have to start trusting his substitutes a little bit more if he wants to have all his men in good shape when the crucial part of the season arrives. Since the midfield is the main concern, finding a way to fit Isco or Casemiro in would be the perfect solution. Otherwise, it seems very unlikely that Los Blancos can fight until the end in all three competitions.