Friday, 20 September 2013

Carlo Ancelotti and his Real Madrid

The Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid love story ended last summer in acrimonious circumstances. Looking back now they really weren't made for each other at all. Fire and Ice. Mourinho a defensive tactical mastermind with a very much 'win ugly' approach and Madrid, a club historically renowned for playing exciting, attacking football and entertaining their fans. How did we ever think this was going to end any other way?

Step forward Carlo Ancelotti. Former Juventus, Milan, Chelsea and PSG coach with a glittering resume. Four European cups to his name, two each as a player and a manager at Milan. A league and cup double at Chelsea to go with titles at Milan and in his only full season at PSG, he is the man charged with bringing the coveted tenth European crown, and the first since 2002 to Real Madrid.

Madrid manager: Dream job or poisoned chalice?

Vicente del Bosque was the last man to lead Madrid to European glory eleven years ago. Between his departure in 2003 and Mourinho's arrival from Inter in 2010, the club had nine full-time managers in charge including Juande Ramos (formerly of Spurs), Fabio Capello, and current Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini. Between them, they managed two La Liga titles and two Spanish Super Cups in seven mostly miserable seasons. The instability at the club during this period was there for all to see. Capello was sacked ten days after reclaiming the La Liga title from Barcelona (just as he had been in 1997) and the club burned through a shocking four different managers during one calendar year in 2004.

The giant trophy has not come 'home' since 2002

Mourinho steadied the ship as he tends to do. He didn't bring instant success. His first Classico famously ended in a 5-0 trouncing at the Camp Nou. He actually amassed less points than his predecessor Pellegrini had during his sole campaign as Madrid lost out to Barcelona in the league and at the semi-finals in Europe but gained a measure of revenge with a Copa Del Rey win, denying Guardiola another treble. He went one better in 2012 as Madrid won the league title in majestic fashion with a record number of points but again they lost out to in the semi-finals of the Champions League, this time to Bayern. His final season was marred with fall outs with fans and players alike as The Special One ended a season without a major trophy for the first time in eleven years.

Fans in England go to football matches to support their clubs. Fans in Spain go to the Bernabeau or the Camp Nou like they were going to the theatre. They expect to be entertained. Most would prefer a thrilling and uncomfortable 4-3 to a dominant 2-0 win. This simply isn't Mourinho's style. It never has been. His own pragmatic philosophy has brought him unprecedented success at every club he's been at over the past decade but it never fit into the Madrid way of doing things and the fans were never going to warm to him

At Madrid, Jose used a 4-2-3-1 philosophy in most games, altering it to a more defensive structure using an anchor-man for the bigger games. He used Xabi Alonso as a deep-lying playmaker alongside Khedira as a ball-winning midfielder with little attacking responsibilities. The formation was far from fluid and everyone had  a set role. Front four guys attack. Everyone else just make sure you don't concede.

Mourinho's Madrid

His defensive philosophy was emphasised in the first leg of the 2011 Champions League semi-final. Where he played a central midfield trio of Xabi Alonso behind Lassana Diarra and Pepe at home to Barcelona. It was probably the only way he was going have a chance to beat this incredible Barcelona side. Hold them to a 0-0, maybe sneak a quick goal on the counter and go to Catalonia with everything still to play for. But it just wasn't how a Real Madrid team was expected to approach a game, particularly a home one against their greatest rivals.

Statistics would indicate his approach didn't bear fruit. Madrid not only lost that game to Barcelona 2-0, but overall they conceded more league goals than Barcelona in each of his three seasons there.

It was rarely all smiles for Jose at Madrid

It's no surprise  that Mourinho was never really loved at Madrid. Their fans demand fiery passionate all out attacking football. Mourinho gave them defensive pragmatism and relied on the creative genius of a few players to beat teams. His time in charge ended last June and he returned to Chelsea who's fans love and admiration for him is unquestionable. It wasn't always for his replacement at Santiago Bernabeau. Carlo Ancelotti spent two years at Chelsea between 2009 and 2011. He won the club's first double in his first season but lost out to United at home and in Europe the following season amid some lacklustre performances and vocal discontent from the fans and as a result was sacked unceremoniously straight after giving his post match interview on the final day of the season.

Ancelotti is a more versatile and more attack minded coach than Mourinho. He notoriously used the diamond formation to great effect at AC Milan during his reign there which brought them two European Cups. Ancelotti brought this formation to London and employed it from the off, using Essien, Lampard, Ballack and Deco in a four-man central midfield. This changed quite drastically over the course of the season. By the title run-in, it grown to resemble more of a 'Christmas Tree' 4-3-2-1 formation. This was used to great effect as Chelsea went on a surging run, regularly dishing out hidings en-route to clinching the league and cup double. Malouda cutting in from the left side was one of the players of the season, certainly the later half. Drogba and Lampard were also instrumental.

Ancelotti's title winners at Chelsea

He has managed PSG since but it's hard to analyse his time here as his side had no consistent formation over the eighteen months. At times he opted went with a similar formation to what brought him success at Chelsea, other times he went for a 4-4-2 or a very Italian, very narrow 4-3-2-1. He even reverted to the diamond at times. Either way he brought them to a first Ligue Un title in twenty years and a quarter final appearance in the Champions League. Albeit with pretty much unlimited financial resources at his disposal.

He took over at Madrid during the summer relatively un-noticed as the newspapers busied themselves with transfer speculation. Madrid brought in some domestic talent early on in the summer. Asier Illarramendi arrived from Real Socidead for €32 million becoming the clubs most expensive Spaniard ever. Isco also arrived from Malaga for €30 million having impressed at the U21 European Championships at the summer.

Injury to Xabi Alonso at the start of the season has meant an extended run of games for Luka Modric, who wasn't first choice under Mourinho, alongside Khedira in midfield. Ozil's departure has meant Isco has been gifted a regular starting berth in the attacking midfield role. Modric will look to get forward more than Alonso did and should be allowed to do so under Ancelotti. Di Maria's place in this team will not likely last the next couple of weeks. Khedira's spot is also under threat from the aforementioned Illarramendi.

How Madrid have started the season

His Madrid have looked considerably more fluid than Mourinho's and certainly more attack minded. The 6-1 thrashing of Galatasaray on Tuesday night emphasised this. The strict defensive discipline that was there under the previous regime would also appear to have ceased with five goals conceded in the opening five games.

Now as some of you may or may not have heard, Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid this summer. Its obvious where he fits in to this team (on the right wing) but the real curiosity is how this affects the team as a whole. It would be foolish to think Bale will slot right in as a like for like replacement for Di Maria. Bale is an aggressive attacking midfielder, a goal-scorer, a lot like Ronaldo on the opposite flank. With two pacy goal-scoring wingers, I would expect that Ancelotti will adopts a false-nine system.

A false-nine system for those that don't know involves playing a striker as a conventional number nine but having him drop back into advanced midfield positions, aiming to draw the centre backs with him and thus freeing up space for the wingers to run into.  This is, in my opinion, the best option to utilise the combined talents of Ronaldo and Bale.

False Nine: How Ronaldo and Bale can rip teams apart together

The Galacitcos experiment of 2000 - 2006 proved a failure on the pitch at least. While I'm sure they sold countless jerseys (I had one), buying the best player in the world every summer is not the best way to build a team. It proved a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Bale and Ronaldo are both chiefs. And to use another cliche, having two roosters in a hen-house often ends in disaster. Failure to manage this situation correctly and produce the goods on the pitch will no doubt see Ancelotti go the way of the nine before Mourinho. Madrid are ruthless when it comes to managers.

Whether or not Madrid win La Liga this season basically depends on how few points they drop against the 'teams that aren't Barcelona'. Obviously winning both Classicos would help but the other 108 points on offer are where the league will be won at lost. So far they've already dropped 2 away to Villlareal.

But the Champions League is the title they really want and Ancelotti will be under pressure to deliver it. This immense pressure has not been eased by the massive €100 million outlay on Gareth Bale. The crushing of Galatasaray, a team that beat them as recently as April will have sent out a warning signal felt across Europe. Real Madrid are back. Now under new management and they mean business about reclaiming the biggest prize in football. A title that was once theirs by right.

The Deep-Lying Playmaker

If you want to catch a Madrid game soon they have three coming up in six days:

Sunday September 22nd: vs Getafe (H), 6pm.
Wednesday September 24th: vs Elche (A), 9pm.
Saturday September 28th: vs Athletico Madrid (H), 9pm.

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