Changes in Ancelotti’s debut: Casillas, di Maria, Arbeloa can’t crack Real Madrid XI

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Iker Casillas’s expected return to Real Madrid’s starting lineup was so highly anticipated, completely objective not-a-pro-Real-Madrid paper Marca printed a note of congratulations on Sunday morning.

“Welcome home, Iker,” the headline read, speaking with a familiarity that makes last names inappropriate. “Tonight the goalkeeper returns to the Real Madrid starting line-up …”

Hours later, Diego López — the man who became Real Madrid’s number one his January acquisition — was announced as Real Madrid’s starter for today’s match.

[MORE: Isco’s late goal gives Real Madrid win over Betis.]

“Ancelotti’s eagerness to re-establish the normal order seems to have given Iker the upper hand over Diego López – at least for the time being,” Marca wrote this morning.

Oops. More from Marca:

Now it is up to Iker to cement his grip on a first-team place, conscious that Ancelotti – who is delighted to have two-world class shotstoppers on his hands – will not be afraid to pull the trigger and switch things over if he deems it necessary.

The Italian has been at pains to avoid his decision leaking out, even claiming that he had yet to determine which goalkeeper would play. “It’s not an easy decision and it will come down to small details that are difficult to explain. They are both top professionals, are training well and did well in preseason”, he stated.

Ancelotti knows that the issue is a delicate one and wants to handle it with care. He is fully aware that last season, the controversy over the number 1 spot caused a rift in the dressing room and amongst the fans – one he is desperate to heal.

source:  After the match, March trotted out what’s sure to be the company line. Not that Casillas’s time at the Confederations Cup (and break afterward) aren’t legitimate factors, but when Gianluigi Buffon is starting the Supercoppa Italiana the same day Casillas is said to be behind in training, you have to think these excuses are only as important a you want them to be.

Again, Marca:

Ancelotti had already warned on the eve of the match that he was not certain who the first choice goalkeeper should be and he finally opted for Lopez who completed a full pre-season, while Casillas had only spent the past twenty days with the side.

Casillas versus López was only one of the curiosities from Ancelotti’s first match in charge. Some of these issues foreseeable, but now that an official game is in the book, we can start discussing some of the implications.

Free Cristiano! – Not that Cristiano Ronaldo was ever limited in what he could do under José Mourinho, but today he really seemed liberated to go wherever he thought the ball would end up. His average position made him the most left-leaning of Real’s attacking midfielders, but he was only slightly left of Isco. At full time, Ronaldo had attempted 11 shots, four finding their way on goal. 

Ángel Di María is the one to make way – There aren’t many who deny Di María’s influence, but whereas some think he’s merely a fine player, others see him as an absolute world-class talent. I tend to fall into the second group, because although the Argentine winger doesn’t put up the eye-popping goal totals, he does everything else. Unfortunately, that everything else-ness was on the bench at kickoff, with Isco starting in his place. He eventually came on the 69th minute for MesütÖzil.

Alvaro Arbeloa loses his spot, too – He’s been good enough to start at right back for Spain, but that never tempered criticism of Alvaro Arbeloa. It appears Carlo Ancelotti is the same camp as the detractors, because Daniel Carvajal, brought back to Spain this summer from Bayer Leverkusen, got the start.

source:  No sign of Kaká – A popular theory after Ancelotti’s move from Paris Saint-Germain held Kaká would get a fresh start under the man who guided at AC Milan. Perhaps that has happenned, but today, although Real Madrid spent only four minutes in the lead, Kaká was an unused sub. Özil, Isco, and Luka Modric got starts. Casemiro and Di María were called off the bench. But there was no time for Kaká.

Similar system, different tactics – You don’t want to read too much into the tactics, as they could have been tailored to Real Betis, but in a system that was similar to the one José Mourinho used before he left Real Madrid, it was interesting to see how much Los Blancos relied on their left side. Both goals were generated down that flank, as were most of the team’s chances, with all of the team’s attacking midfielders’ average positions left side of striker Karim Benzema. Perhaps that’s what a healthy Marcelo will do for you – implore you to go left. It was interesting, nonetheless.

But does/did that expose Ramos? –  Sergio Ramos was beaten badly on Real Betis’s only goal. Cedric, a 21-year-old Congolese attacker brought in from Numancia, put Ramos on his heals in a one-on-one before going right (and, right around him), setting up an easy finish for Jorge Molina. Ramos is a talented defender capable of handling those situations better.

It’s only one game, but for Real Madrid, it was a very interesting one.

EURO 2016: Who’s headed to France?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10: Volkan Sen of Turkey in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.

The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.

Group A

  1. Czech Republic
  2. Iceland
  3. Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)

Group B

  1. Belgium
  2. Wales
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)

Group C

  1. Spain
  2. Slovakia
  3. Ukraine (qualified for play-off)

Group D

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)

Group E

  1. England
  2. Switzerland
  3. Slovenia (qualified for play-off)

Group F

  1. Northern Ireland
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary (qualified for play-off)

Group G

  1. Austria
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden (qualified for play-off)

Group H

  1. Italy
  2. Croatia
  3. Norway (qualified for play-off)

Group I

  1. Portugal
  2. Albania
  3. Denmark (qualified for play-off)

EURO 2016: Dutch disaster as Netherlands fail to qualify

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (19) reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group A match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.

Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.

[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]

Italy 2-1 Norway

Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.

Malta 0-1 Croatia

With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group A

Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan

Group B

Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group H

Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan