Real Madrid have not been defeated in a long time in LaLiga, but they have frequently dropped points by drawing teams they should have beaten. Last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Levante was an example of how Los Blancos made critical mistakes that undid a lot of their great work. That said, the attack, through two games, already looks more dangerous in 2021-2022. And Vinicius Junior’s rapid progress has a lot to do with that.
This Saturday night at the Benito Villamarin, Real Madrid will be tested by one of the better teams in LaLiga in Real Betis, who have taken points off Los Blancos frequently over the past few seasons. That already gives Madridistas enough reason to be concerned about Sergio Canales’ side, but let’s take a look at a more specific concern on LaLiga’s Matchday 3. (Though there will be some relation between past struggles against Los Verdiblancos.)
As we saw against Levante, the Real Madrid defense is a work in progress to start the 2021-2022 campaign. That was always to be expected. Not only is there a new manager who is prioritizing attacking fluidity over structure, but there is also a huge void to fill at the heart of the defense. Both halves of the greatest center back duo of the last decade, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, are gone. Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao are good players who were excellent at the end of the last season, but Varane and Ramos, they are not.
There is also the matter of new faces, a right back injury, and communication issues. The changes to the back four, which include David Alaba’s signing, mean that there will be an adjustment period as all the defenders get used to how each other plays. That understanding is still developing, as we saw last weekend. Dani Carvajal’s return from injury (for this 200th appearance with the club, no less) in the second half changed the game. He even had a defensive recovery that directly led to a goal!
Real Madrid could miss Nacho Fernandez at Real Betis
But while there are positives for Real’s defense, the big worry is that we will see more of those growing pains next weekend against a side with even more attacking talent in Real Betis. Though they did not show it against Mallorca and Cadiz in recent 1-1 draws, we know they will have much more room to attack and much more motivation against the mighty Real Madrid, who are very vulnerable to counters.
Betis have made Real pay, including when they beat them in the second half of the 2019-2020 season behind a stellar day from Nabil Fekir. They would have won last time out in the second half of the 2020-2021 season, too, had Borja Iglesias been more clinical in an eventual 0-0 draw.
Real Madrid could have to worry about the likes of Canales and Fekir without center back Nacho Fernandez, who is doubtful for Matchday 3 due to an overload injury, as per COPE’s Arancha Rodriguez.
Nacho had a rare off night against Levante, but he was fabulous in the opener at Alaves. More importantly, Nacho is the leader of this back four and showed it throughout the second half of the last season when Ramos was injured.
David Alaba could be the difference-maker for Real Madrid
Real can fill his place. They have options. Alaba can get his first Real Madrid start in central defense in a meaningful match, while Miguel Gutierrez is more than ready to start, judging by what we have seen from him at left back every time he takes the pitch. Marcelo starting on the left would cause nerves, but a back four of Alaba, Militao, Carvajal, and Miguel can stand with almost any defense in LaLiga.
Still, Alaba would be making his first start and having to show that understanding and leadership with a new club that Nacho does as a seasoned veteran of Real Madrid. Alaba is capable of doing it, but it is a risk against Betis, who can capitalize on any positional or communication errors in transition from Los Blancos. That is where they are most vulnerable.
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Watch closely for updates regarding Nacho and be prepared for Real’s defense to face a big test after conceding three at Levante. Los Merengues have what it takes to pitch a clean sheet, but Betis are threatening and will force Real’s defenders to prepare to their best.