Real Madrid’s Champions League XI – why do they announce their line-up early?

Most clubs tend to release their line-ups about an hour before kick-off. Not Real Madrid. Once again, their starting XI is already out there — more than two and a half hours before the Champions League final gets under way.

You might think doing this gives an opposition team clues, that Borussia Dortmund will have an advantage in knowing exactly how Carlo Ancelotti’s side will set up. But Madrid and their head coach have no such concerns.

This is why they do it.

The reason for their early line-up announcement dates back to the 2021-22 season. Until then, journalists from various outlets had often unveiled XIs in the build-up to important matches, much to the frustration of the club and even some fans.

Leaks of the line-up became even more common at the start of that campaign, when Ancelotti made a surprise return from Everton to replace Zinedine Zidane in the dugout. Miguel Angel Diaz, a journalist for radio station Cadena COPE, would regularly publish Ancelotti’s choices before Madrid wanted them to be made public.

In years gone by, that might have led to division behind the scenes. Those at Madrid’s Valdebebas HQ remember when then-manager Jose Mourinho sought out a ‘mole’ who was leaking dressing room matters, including line-ups, to the media. He blamed goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who denied supplying the press with information.

Ancelotti and his coaching staff introduced the practice of releasing early line-ups (Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

This time, however, Madrid and Ancelotti decided to take it in their stride to wrong-foot the press. For the first derby of 2021-22 against Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu in December, they published their line-up around two hours before kick-off. It is a tradition that has stuck.

Ancelotti and his staff seem unconcerned by line-up leaks — in contrast to their predecessors.

Before the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City, the Italian told reporters he would not do anything special with his formation to surprise Pep Guardiola. Ancelotti was not explaining the full picture, however. He moved Rodrygo from the centre of attack to his preferred left-wing position and placed Vinicius Junior centrally to make the most of the Brazilian forwards’ qualities.

The Spanish outlet Relevo published news of this before Madrid could announce the line-up, but a coaching staff source seemed nonplussed when asked by The Athletic about it. “It doesn’t bother me, but I wouldn’t do it,” said the source — who preferred to speak anonymously to protect relationships.

Madrid also see it as an opportunity to boost the profile of their in-house TV channel, which is the first to publish team news, and their social media channels. The line-up appears on those channels a few minutes after it is announced on Real Madrid TV.

So Madrid won’t be playing mind games when they release their line-up early again before facing Dortmund — this is just how they do things.

(Top photo by Carlos Perez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

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