How Real Madrid could line up with Mbappé

Breaking down Carlo Ancelotti's best XI with the arrival of Kylian Mbappé 🤔

After years of speculation and more rumors than your office the Monday after the holiday party, it appears Real Madrid finally have their man.

Recent reports indicate that Kylian Mbappé has told PSG he plans to leave the club when his contract expires in June to sign with Real Madrid, the club who have coveted him for so long. While the deal can’t be formalized until there’s no longer a chance for the clubs to meet in the Champions League (i.e. PSG get eliminated), the news comes as a huge relief to Florentino Pérez, who staked his reputation on landing the sport’s crown jewel.

For Carlo Ancelotti, however, the news is anything but a relief.

Ancelotti’s problem

The Italian manager will face the headache-inducing conundrum of who to start each week, and surely must be looking at his team sheet like an overwhelmed Labrador Retriever in a room full of tennis balls. 🎾 

Saying this Real Madrid squad is loaded with talent would be an understatement. Let’s break it down by position group:

  • Forwards: Mbappé, Vini Jr., Rodrygo, Brahim Díaz, Joselu, and Endrick

  • Midfielders: Bellingham, Valverde, Tchouaméni, Camavinga, Kroos, Modric, Ceballos, Arda Güler, and Nico Paz

  • Defenders: Militão, Rüdiger, Alaba, Mendy, Carvajal, Fran García, Nacho, and Lucas Vázquez

  • Goalkeepers: Courtois, Kepa, and Andriy Lunin

The club also reportedly reached a verbal agreement with Alphonso Davies on Monday, who could join as soon as the end of this season. While some players are certain to leave in the offseason, this squad easily passes the eye test as the world’s best. 👀 

So how will they line up?

The new BBC: Vinícius, Mbappé, and Rodrygo

With the exception of Davies potentially slotting in for Mendy, Madrid’s back line is likely to remain unchanged, so let’s focus on the front line and midfield.

Playing Vini Jr., Mbappé, and Rodrygo in the front line of a 4-3-3 formation is the sexiest choice for Ancelotti, boasting three attackers with sharpness and positional fluidity that would rip La Liga defenses to shreds.

The problem? Well, Madrid’s deepest unit is their midfield, and this formation would prevent one of Camavinga, Kroos, or Modric from getting into the XI. This would also deviate from Ancelotti’s preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation, which gives Bellingham attacking freedom in a false 9/no. 10 hybrid role.

Mbappé has also never thrived as a central striker. He likes to drift inwards from the left half-space – the same channel where Vini Jr. likes to operate. Comments made by Ancelotti in a press conference last week suggest that he would prioritize playing Vini Jr. in his natural position, even with Mbappé in the fold.

I think Vini can play inside, not as a center-forward but with a pair of forwards, but I think we have to take into account that he is very comfortable playing out wide... I want to put a player of his quality where he is most comfortable, which is the left wing.

Carlo Ancelotti

There’s simply not enough room on the pitch for both Mbappé and Vini Jr. to play in their preferred positions.

A different take on the 4-4-2

A lineup more suited to this trio’s immense attacking ability is a continuation of Ancelotti’s preferred lineup from this season. Bellingham would continue to pull the strings for Madrid’s attack, setting up chances for Mbappé and Vini Jr. as interchangeable split strikers.

The real reason this formation would shine is the midfield. This same unit has been incredibly effective this season, with Tchouaméni gobbling up every ball in sight (pause), Camavinga doing a little bit of everything, and Valverde applying nonstop pressure with his three lungs.

This midfield would significantly lessen the defensive burden of the front three, enabling them to stay high up the pitch when out of possession and quickly hit opponents on the counter.

If Madrid are overwhelmed by a tricky right-winger or Davies makes too many bombing runs forward, then Bellingham can always drop back to provide additional defensive cover:

Ancelotti also has the luxury of being able to swap Camavinga for Kroos should his side struggle against a low block or need a defense-splitting pass:

Rodrygo would be the odd the odd man out in this likely scenario, but he should still see plenty of playing time given Madrid’s packed schedule and his teammates’ injury histories.

Midfield overload

Oh you like midfielders, do ya? Why don’t you go out back and smoke a whole pack of midfielders then? 🚬 

While this lineup admittedly looks a bit ridiculous at first glance, it caters to Madrid’s major strengths and a key tenet of Ancelotti’s coaching philosophy. The Italian is a proponent of letting his best players dictate the structure of the team as opposed to letting his desired formation determine who plays – something he learned while coaching Zidane at Juventus.

I was so focused before Juventus on 4-4-2 and after with Zidane, I changed, I wanted to put him in the best position for him, to let him be more comfortable on the pitch.

Carlo Ancelotti

Madrid’s weakest position group is full backs, so it makes sense to eliminate them completely at some level. However, this lineup feels like it lacks width and could use another attacking-minded player to stretch out the opposition.

What about Endrick?

The Brazilian wonderkid is set to join the club on his 18th birthday in July. However, Palmeiras are reportedly planning to ask Real Madrid to delay the player’s arrival in Spain until the end of the year. While it remains unclear how Madrid would respond to such a request, don’t expect Endrick to be anything more than a rotational option in his first season with Los Blancos, whenever that might be.

Zoom out: Fortunately for Madridistas, there really is no wrong answer for Ancelotti. Sure, having this much talent to choose from can give you a headache, but so can eating an ice cream cone. It’s not a bad problem to have if you ask me. 🍦