After much success in Italy, England, and most recently France, Carlo Ancelotti is set to embark on arguably his biggest challenge to date: bringing the almighty Real Madrid back to both domestic and European glory.
One thing that will give fans of Real the most hope is Ancelotti’s experience in looking after and getting the best out of experienced players, something that was largely responsible for Jose Mourinho’s exit from the club in June.
The first order of business for the Italian will be to unite, or rather reunite, the dressing room. Talk of factions emerging in the Madrid squad last year plagued their season, with many players including Iker Casillas desperate for Mourinho to leave. Casillas was eventually forced out of the starting XI by Mourinho, but one would have to think Ancelotti will want the Spanish captain back in goal for Madrid, as do the large majority of the fans.
Ancelotti is somewhat of a traditionalist in terms of his defensive tactics. At Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea and PSG, he utilised a four man defensive line, but in some respects, he revolutionised the concept of attacking full-backs. Cafu at Milan was solid but also got forward and put crosses in, while Ancelotti favoured Branislav Ivanovic at Chelsea mostly, largely due to Ivanovic’s efficiency at getting forward and back again quickly. Ashley Cole contributed in an attacking sense more than ever in Ancelotti’s first season with the Blues, an element of his game most had questioned before then. When he was forward, Cole’s final ball was often exceptional.
At PSG, Jallet and Maxwell in particular added to the side with bursts forward, but Ancelotti made sure they only went forward when there was little chance of them getting caught out. If Ancelotti could possibly mould the likes of Fabio Coentrao, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and any other full-backs Madrid may bring in into these types of grafters; Madrid may have the most wide formation and deep squad in world football.
One of the few positive things in Madrid’s frustrating and disappointing 2012-13 season was the emergence of Raphaël Varane.
The 20 year old French centre-back put in some magnificent performances throughout the season, especially in big games, where he neutralised the attacking threats of the likes of Robin van Persie, Didier Drogba, Lionel Messi, Pedro and Carlos Tevez to name just a few. With Varane, Pepe and Sergio Ramos all capable of putting a shift in for Les Meringues, I see no obvious need to bring in another centre half unless one of those mentioned previously leaves.
The midfield formation is harder to predict. The 4-2-3-1 formation appears to be the in thing at the moment, with Mourinho using it at Madrid last season, while Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, at times Manchester United, and a few other top teams all opting to use it. The signing of Isco means Madrid could well have one of the best attacking or creative midfield trios in the world with Mesut Özil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and even José Callejón, (presuming they all stay) possibly playing there.
Mourinho opted to play Alonso and Khedira mostly, and sometimes Modric there, but this would mean Madrid would not really be advancing from the Mourinho days. Ancelotti likes to put his stamp on things.
So what can Ancelotti do differently to Mourinho? A 3-2-4-1 has been suggested by some, but that type of defence doesn’t really suit Madrid at the present time. A 4-2-2-2 could also be an option, although it would almost certainly force Madrid into signing another striker. Gonzalo Higuain is being heavily linked with a move away from the Bernabeu, while Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, even Robert Lewandowski have all been supposedly looked at as possible additions.
Alvaro Morata had a sublime UEFA Euro U-21’s tournament, but it is difficult to tell if he is ready to compete and score goals consistently in a team that relies so heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo, and has done for the past four years.
With main title rivals FC Barcelona bringing in the electrifying Neymar to play alongside the brilliant Lionel Messi, you get the sense Madrid almost have to bring in a big name centre forward, as Karim Benzema doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing team’s defences in the same way Neymar and Messi do.
Ancelotti has further endeared himself to the notoriously demanding and hard to please Madrid crowd by bringing in club legend Zinedine Zidane to work alongside the Italian. Zidane has spoken out about his desire to see apparent Madrid target Gareth Bale in the iconic white shirt of Madrid, although Tottenham seem determined to keep the Welshman for at least another year.
Whoever comes in, whether it be Cavani, Suarez, Bale or anyone else, Ancelotti has shown he can handle and organise a big, quality packed squad. It will be a long pre-season for the two time Champions league winner, as he looks to add La Liga to the already illustrious list of leagues which he has already won.
Madrid need unity and dedication as well as ability if they are to surpass FC Barcelona domestically and perhaps finally win that tenth European cup that they have chased for the last eleven years. If anyone can guide them there, it is Ancelotti.