TheHardTackle takes a look at how Real Madrid has evolved under Carlo Ancelotti, highlighting its strengths up front and weaknesses at the back.
A considerable part of the year 2013 has passed. This was one of the toughest years at the Bernabeu in recent times. A third consecutive semi final exit, second place in the La Liga and an extra time defeat in the Copa del Rey final against Atletico Madrid proved that Real Madrid were good but not good enough. Things were not going the way they should on the pitch and there were far too many problems off it as well. Jose Mourinho seemed to be at the root of all troubles and the dressing room was not the happiest place to visit. Soon enough, not to the surprise of many, Mourinho was offloaded by the club at the end of the season by ‘mutual agreement’.
Mourinho’s exit delighted the fans who looked at it as a positive change of scenario. Carlo Ancelotti was announced as the permanent replacement for Mourinho. The Italian’s arrival signalled a change in the philosophy and playing style of the team. While Mourinho relied heavily on a pace and counter-attack, Ancelotti promised an attacking style of play which will see the team keep more possession. After a difficult start to the season, it seems like the team is finally adjusting to the Italian’s scheme of things. The team looks more comfortable in possession and are at their attacking best scoring heaps of goals. However, the defense has been shaky and the team has conceded 17 goals for the 35 they have scored, far higher than their closest rivals in the league Barcelona (conceded 8 goals and scored 38) and Atletico Madrid (conceded 9 goals and scored 31).
Consistency is the key: Real Madrid can rely on Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric.
Cristiano Ronaldo has no doubt been the most consistent player for Real Madrid so far. The Portuguese forward has featured in all the games for The Whites and he will remain the focus of the club. Another player to feature in all games has surprisingly been Luka Modric! The Croatian has been a revelation so far and has been the key man in the middle of the park. The midfielder has capitalised from Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira’s absence due to injury. Modric’s ability to successfully play as a holding midfielder and also directly behind the forwards in a more attacking position has sealed his berth in the centre of midfield. The Croatian has certainly been a revelation under the management of Ancelotti. Also, adapting to his new life in Madrid is the Welsh superstar Gareth Bale. The winger had a tough start to the season after sustaining an early injury which saw him missing out most of the pre-season. The Welshman took his time to settle down and is now playing great football. His recent run of games has forced Di Maria to warm the bench despite decent performances.
Change in style: the team is steadily moving from counter-attacking to possession football.
When Carlo Ancelotti was unveiled to the fans, the Italian promised a change in style. He promised a possession based, more attacking style of play which will see Madrid scoring more goals and entertaining the masses in the process. The Italian has slowly drifted from the counter attacking 4-2-3-1 formation to a direct attacking 4-3-3 which allows most of the play to take place in the middle and attacking third of the pitch. This formation allows the three forwards Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale to attack from the front while the midfield tries to hold more possession and create chances. While, in the centre of midfield players like Khedira, Modric and Alonso have certainly benefited from the change and have been immensely effective. The change in formation however, has forced Isco and Di Maria to spend more time on the bench.
Struggling backline: problems at the back are growing and cannot be ignored.
The Real Madrid defense boasts of having some of the best defenders in the world at their disposal. However, many times Real Madrid have ended up conceding goals after piling a heavy lead on the oppositions. Their only saviour in these situations has been the man between the sticks. Though the fact that Diego Lopez is in great form and is producing exquisite performances has helped Real Madrid to a great extent, the Spaniard is being tested by the opponents way too often. While Real Madrid have not failed in out-scoring lowly opponents in the La Liga, the defending woes have certainly been a problem against tougher opponents such as Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Juventus are the only world class opponent Real Madrid have been able to defeat so far. While the lacklustre defense may not be a major problem in the La Liga at present, but a club aspiring for European glory cannot afford to concede goals so easily and frequently. The Real Madrid defense consists of players such as Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Raphael Varane, Nacho, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao. With such world-class players, Real Madrid’s defense has a fine mix of youth and experience. But the problems at the back are alarming for a team of Real Madrid’s stature.
The fullbacks have been a major concern for Carlo Ancelotti. Real Madrid are most vulnerable on the wings as their two wingers, Ronaldo and Bale are rarely involved in their own half. This calls for the fullbacks to work harder and not allow space for the opponents on the wings. Real Madrid have amongst the world’s best left-fullbacks at their disposal in the form of Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao. Both link perfectly well with Ronaldo and provide him with that extra attacking boost. However, the two fullbacks don’t necessarily provide enough defensive cover. Marcelo has often failed to track back in order to avoid attacks from the wings. Playing right behind Ronaldo adds more pressure on the fullback to cover the space left open by the winger in order to prevent potential counter attacks. On the right, Ancelotti has two contrast options at his disposal. Arbeloa brings with him defensive and physical abilities along with a lot of experience. However, the Spaniard lacks pace and is often beaten by wingers. The fullback also lacks attacking abilities and fails to contribute in the attacks. On the other hand, Castilla product Dani Carvajal is strikingly different from Arbeloa. With swift legs, Carvajal poses all kinds of threats to the opponents while attacking. However, the youngster lacks defensive abilities and fails to fallback at times leaving enough space for the opponents to carry out a lethal counter attack.
In the centre back position, Real Madrid boasts of having Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Varane. These three centre backs are certainly one of the best in the world. Despite the big names, Real Madrid haven’t been stable at the back. Varane had to deal with a long recovery from injury and missed out on the pre-season. The Frenchman has not yet found the form he displayed late last season under Jose Mourinho. Varane featured in the game against Juventus in Turin where he was the main cause of concern after conceding a penalty which was converted by Vidal and then failing to mark Llorente who scored the second goal off a free header. While, Sergio Ramos and Pepe have featured more this season, their performances have also not reached the level that is expected from the two. Playing at the heart of the defense, the three centre backs must improve their game sooner rather than later in order to bring back stability at the back that the team needs.
All in all, the attack looks to have adapted well to Carlo Ancelotti’s ways but the defense is still struggling. In order to beat the tougher opponents Ancelotti must work on the defense making it tighter and more organised.