Depleted Real Madrid paying the price for not adding defenders in transfer window

AP , Monday 5 Feb 2024

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti didn’t feel the need to sign a defender in January despite a wave of injuries to his back line.

Dani Carvajal
Real Madrid s Dani Carvajal, left, and Atletico Madrid s Mario Hermoso challenge for the ball during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. AP


The coach was deploying midfielders as central defenders, but didn’t think he had to bring in anyone else to help out.

But after seeing Madrid concede a late equalizer against rival Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league on Sunday — and miss a chance to increase its lead at the top of the standings — Ancelotti found himself lamenting the team’s defensive shortcomings.

“It was a situation in which they had more height. They beat us in the air and that’s it. If you’re taller it’s easier to win the aerial duel,” Ancelotti said.

Madrid was playing with right back Dani Carvajal as one of the central defenders along with Nacho Fernández, who is not a usual starter. The duo couldn’t fend off Atletico’s last-minute push at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium that culminated with Marcos Llorente scoring three minutes into stoppage time in a 1-1 draw.

The goal came after two headers by Atletico players inside the area — first by Memphis Depay from a long cross by Stefan Savic, and then by Llorente from close range.

It was the 13th goal conceded by Madrid in its last eight matches in all competitions, with only one clean sheet in that stretch. Against Atletico alone, Madrid has conceded eight goals in three matches.

Madrid has been playing without two of its regular starting defenders because of serious knee injuries – Éder Militão was ruled out before the season started, and David Alaba ruptured his ACL in December. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois also has been out since before the season started with a knee ligament injury.

Antonio Rüdiger, another defender who is often among Madrid’s starters, was expected to play on Sunday but couldn't recover in time from a recent injury and Ancelotti had to go with Carvajal in the middle of the defense. Aurélien Tchouaméni, a midfielder who has been used as a central defender in the past, couldn’t play because he was suspended.

“It was a special game,” Ancelotti said. “We were without two players who could play at center-back. But the emergency is over now because we have Tchouaméni and Rüdiger available for the next game.”

And it will be an important one for Madrid, against second-place Girona. Madrid could have opened a four-point gap over the Catalan club had it not faltered late on Sunday. A victory would have also taken Atletico virtually out of contention for the title. Diego Simeone’s team is 10 points off the lead. Defending champion Barcelona is eight points behind Madrid after 23 matches.

“We are not worried because the team is doing very well,” Ancelotti said. “We’re playing very good football and that’s what gives me the most confidence going forward. We have a strong team. We had some injuries, but everyone played their part and everyone has given their all. We are still leading the league and we have a chance to make a statement with a win on Saturday.”

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