Ahead of facing Manchester City, Real Madrid have quite an issue. The team's defense has been one of the best in La Liga but that's because of what Eder Militao brings to the squad. Confident in the air, making good decisions when faced with challenges, and anchoring the backline, Militao brings a calm that is important to how Los Blancos play. But, after fouling Kai Havertz and picking up a yellow card in the quarterfinals, Militao will miss Tuesday's Champions League semifinal first leg due to yellow card accumulation.
That defensive absence brings up a major question for Los Blancos -- how to defend Erling Haaland?
While this would be an issue even with Militao in the lineup, he's a defender with the confidence to go one on one with Haaland and the strength to give the Norwegian a hard time. Not many people can stop Haaland which is why he has scored 51 goals in all competitions. But for Real Madrid, they'll have a midfielder at left back and a backup central pairing.
In the Copa Del Rey final, Osasuna has shown a blueprint that City can exploit with pressing and creating chances but how can Carlo Ancelotti combat things?
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David Alaba is critical
Alaba returning from injury gives Ancelotti a key presence to stop Haaland. The most mobile defender in the squad, Alaba can shadow him but he can't be drawn out into attacking. Alaba and Antonio Rudiger like to carry the ball forward which creates space that Haaland can exploit to unleash devastating attacks. If he's able to be disciplined in his approach then things may work a little better but Alaba also isn't the arial presence that Militao is. In those cases, he has to be in constant communication with Rudiger because stopping Haaland is truly a team job.
From the forwards back to the keeper, everyone needs to be locked in on the strategy that will be employed. Will Aurelien Tchouameni be man-marking Kevin de Bruyne? Can Eduardo Camavinga's athleticism slow down the wingers or can he be asked to step into midfield when things are overrun? If one of these players fails at their responsibility, the most likely outcome is a Manchester City goal.
Thibaut Courtois is good at stopping most things that come his way in net but he's not infallible if the defense is constantly hanging him out to dry which also leads to strategy number two.
Use attack as a defense
Another option is if Real Madrid use their attacking strength to play the match on their own terms. They have three of the best attackers in the world supported by an amazing midfield so if they up the pressure it can give City some problems. For as good as City are at not allowing teams to attack them down the middle, some of that is out of fear of not being able to keep up with City's attack.
Real Madrid have no such fear. In a high-scoring game, they can keep up with anyone and everyone. While going all out at City requires stamina and depth, these are also things that Real Madrid have in some areas. The midfield and wings have plenty of players who can step in but it does leave Los Blancos light in defense.
This is a situational thing as if Real Madrid can grab an early goal or two then it's in their best interest to sit back, but starting the first and second halves as quickly as possible can be a way that the team overcomes not being able to defend well in one on one situations.
Ancelotti has shown flexibility and a team doesn't win as many trophies as Real Madrid without switching things up, but this will be the toughest test so far of the season. Manchester City have the possession skills of Barcelona with the attacking danger of Real Madrid so even if Los Blancos are able to do their best job possible, the team may still come up short against arguably the world's best team.