A free-flowing Real Madrid side finds itself eight points clear in LaLiga — and 10 points clear of Atlético — entering this Madrid Derby. What has surprised you the most and the least about Madrid’s past few months?
For me, the two almost go hand in hand. Carlo has gone into this pivotal run of games without rotating the squad (not surprising given his history), yet it has harmonized the team – there are clearly defined roles for 18 players on this roster and it feels like those 18 individuals are all bought into the game plan. The outcasts: Hazard, Bale, Marcelo, Isco, Mariano, Antonio Blanco, and Miguel Gutierrez are not part of that 18.
By defining those roles and sticking to the players he trusts during the onslaught of difficult fixtures, Ancelotti has come out winning. As mentioned, Madrid are 10 points clear of Atlético and top of their group stage UCL table. Last season it was just four or five players playing well and carrying the team (Kroos, Modrić, Casemiro, Courtois, Benzema) – this year so many players have taken a leap or returned to their best level.
We will see if the lack of rotations comes to hurt us in the spring time.
Vinícius has exploded this season and looks like a genuine superstar at the moment. How much credit can Carlo Ancelotti take for his improvement?
Carlo has given Vinícius confidence, continuity, and subtle tweaks to his game. I wrote in depth about the change we have seen in Vinicius Junior under Carlo Ancelotti here.
Under Ancelotti, Vinícius knows that if he makes a mistake, he will not be dropped for the next game. He has the peace of mind to play his game and the Italian has reaped the rewards of that confidence.
So yes, I think Carlo can take some of the credit, but in the end it’s always up to the player to implement any advice and execute on the pitch.
Is Thibaut Courtois even more important to Madrid’s success than, say, Vinícius or Benzema?
I would not say Thibaut is more important than Vinícius Junior or Karim Benzema, but his contribution cannot be undervalued. After a tough first year at Madrid, he has transformed into one of the best goalkeepers in the world, if not the best. His distribution with his feet can still be improved, but it seems as though he makes at least one goal-denying save per game.
Which Atleti player scares you the most entering this game?
Griezmann is the player that can provide the most threat. It seems like he is starting to round into form for Atleti and has come up with goals in some big Champions League performances recently (AC Milan and Porto). That being said, he has a monumental task playing up against the likes of Militão and Alaba.
Real Madrid 3 – Atlético Madrid 1.