Champions and Europa League week

The great European tournaments are back
Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema celebrates with Brazilian striker Rodrygo after scoring against Galatasaray at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium on 6 November 2019

AFP/PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU  -   Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema celebrates with Brazilian striker Rodrygo after scoring against Galatasaray at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium on 6 November 2019

The week of European competitions starts on Wednesday and Thursday with the Europa League and continues on Friday and Saturday with the Champions League.

Real Madrid has 12 days to prepare for their Champions League match against Manchester City. Since the 19th of July, when the League ended, Zidane's players have had a week's holiday to be with their families. From then on, their objective is focused only and exclusively on a single match; their match against City at the Etihad Stadium on Friday at 21:00h. If they don't come back from the 1-2 at the Bernabeu, the season will be over for them.

20 days thinking about a single match they will have to face without their captain Sergio Ramos. Real Madrid finished their league matches in a more than acceptable state of form. We don't know if they will have been able to maintain that physical form, which was reached by players who in principle were very doubtful, like Marcelo or Luka Modric; we don't know if Karim Benzema will maintain his magic that has kept the team at the top with his goals and assists, nor if Courtois will continue with his great form and success.

But this break may serve to fully recover his star signing Hazard and an Asensio who was injured for several months and returned very accurate in front of goal.

Zidane's line-up for Friday's game seems clear on some fronts. Courtois will be the goalkeeper, in the right lateral Carvajal, Varane will be fixed as a central, although he will change from right central to left central to leave the substitute of Ramos his place. Here the coach has the clearest solution in Militão, but he can opt for the experience of Nacho. On the left side we have the doubt of Marcelo or Mendy. It seemed that the Frenchman's solidity and physical strength would win the game for Marcelo this season, but the Brazilian has started as many times as Mendy, even in the important matches he has been chosen by Zidane.

We know that Madrid's wingers have to act as wings because opposing teams always close down and it's necessary to break down defences coming from behind. But playing against City will not be the case, Guardiola's will dispute the control of the ball to the white and, in principle, by their form of play will not be locked even having a favorable score with the 1-2 of the first leg. Also two names seem clear in the front: Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard.

Who will accompany the two strikers? Will Zidane choose to put Asensio or Vinicius playing from you to a very dangerous City and taking a lot of risk? Will he put Valverde in to secure the midfield and win on defensive solidity? He also has the trick of Isco, an intermediate solution, although the Malaga player suffers when he has to perform defensive tasks and he notices it when creating play.

On Saturday, Zidane organized an eleven against eleven match in the training. It doesn't mean that it's exactly the line-up he used against City but it does give us a lot of clues. The striker he put in one of the teams was Asensio, Hazard and Benzema. This forward faced a defense formed by Carvajal, Varane, Nacho and Mendy. This may indicate that instead of the Brazilian Militão, Zidane may choose to put Nacho, a more experienced player.

The one who seems to have finished his tour of Real Madrid is Bale. A player who usually appears in big matches. He has been playing several matches without counting for Zidane and it would be strange if he appeared in the eleven. In any case, in the second half, but it's very unlikely. I think Lucas Vazquez would come in before the Welshman.

Aguero was operated on on the 24th of June in Barcelona and will not be available for the rematch against Real Madrid. Neither will Benjamin Mendy, City's defender due to accumulation of cards. Guardiola has the rest of the great team with Sterling, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus as their main weapons. A great team that cannot be given any concessions as it happened in the first leg.

Mistakes in the first leg, such as Ramos going too softly to a head ball with Gabriel Jesus, which ended in a goal, or Carvajal's innocent penalty to Sterling, cannot be repeated if the white team wants to come back from the play-offs. The Andalusian central, in spite of not being able to play and of his recent paternity, will travel to Manchester to support his companions and to exercise of captain in a so important game for the madridistas. Hazard has to prove that the great expenditure that Real Madrid made for his acquisition has been profitable. The Belgian played two or three very good matches this year until his injury. But nothing more. Friday should be his day and he should ally himself with Karim Benzema to overcome the strong English defense. Kross, Casemiro and Modric have to show their best versions and win the midfield battle to De Bruyne, Gundogan, Rodrigo and Bernardo Silva. The defence must pay special attention to Sterling for his speed, dribbling and effectiveness in front of goal

The likely alignments will be:

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Eric Garcia, Laporte, Otamendi, Rodrigo, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.

Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal, Militão, Varane, Mendy, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Asensio, Benzema and Hazard.

Barcelona have it easier in principle. The azulgranas have not reached the end of La Liga in the right way, but they have a huge potential. Starting with Messi who can settle the match at any moment and continuing with Suárez.

They will not be able to count on Busquets and Vidal by cards. Griezmann does not know if he will arrive on time due to a quadriceps injury as Lenglet and Umtiti. De Jong is being recovered.  

It seems that Setien will have the new culés promises. Both Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig have a good chance to establish themselves in the team.

For their part, Napoli will have the entire squad at their disposal. An effective striker with Mertens and Insigne and the Spaniards Fabian and Callejon. Without forgetting Manolas, who has such a bad memory for the culés.

The probable alignments will be:

Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, De Jong, Rakitic, Riqui Puig, Messi, Suarez and Ansu Fati.

Naples: Ospina, Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Fabian, Demme, Zielinski, Callejon, Mertens and Insigne.

As for the Europa League, on Wednesday and Thursday, the double Italian-Hispanic duel is very evenly matched. Sevilla and Roma are two teams with experience and a great track record in European competitions. The match is very evenly matched. As for Getafe-Inter, a priori by experience and European tradition Inter starts with an advantage. Moreover, it has a much better team than Getafe. The Madrid team made a very bad end of the season and it only remains this competition to complete a brilliant season. It's gone from more to less. Let's hope, that these days of rest will be useful for recovering footballers, who didn't appear at the end of La Liga like Molina or Ángel.

United and Basel, thanks to their good results in the first leg, have a more affordable way to reach the quarterfinals.

Wednesday 5 August 21:00h Getafe-Inter. Europa League
Thursday 6 August 21:00h Roma-Sevilla. Europa League
Friday 7 August 21:00h Manchester City-Real Madrid. Champions League
Saturday 8 August 21:00h Barcelona-Naples. Champions League