How Real Madrid Must Change to Conquer the Champions League
History tells us that a trophyless season at Real Madrid will not be tolerated, not by the fans and certainly not by the club’s boardroom hierarchy.
As Jose Mourinho found out, despite delivering three pieces of silverware in three years, including a La Liga title in 2012, one misfiring campaign is one too many.
Carlo Ancelotti is the new man at the helm, the Italian being charged with healing the dressing room rifts that surfaced under Mourinho and, ultimately, securing their first Champions League crown in over a decade.
Florentino Perez, the club’s outspoken president, described European football’s ultimate crown as “the most coveted trophy” at Ancelotti’s unveiling, leaving the former Paris Saint-Germain boss with a clear message.
Tactical changes could be at the heart of their quest after Real’s deficiencies were laid bare by Borussia Dortmund at the semi-final stage last season.
And with a host of new faces expected in the Bernabeu home dressing room this summer, we look at just some of the on-field changes their new manager could make as they chase the ultimate prize next term.
Accommodate Luka Modric
When asked to pull the strings in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Dortmund, Luka Modric did so to great effect, with stability in the middle of the park allowing others to strive forward.
Trailing 4-1 from the first tie, Madrid’s objective was obvious. But their anxieties stemmed from their eagerness to attack—a tactic that could have left them at best dishevelled and at worst exposed.
Modric’s deeper role suited his undisputed intelligence with the ball, and with defensive cover provided by the equally adept Xabi Alonso, the likes of Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria were given license to roam.
With experience in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur, Modric is no stranger to a high-tempo approach, and given his technique and passing ability, finding a permanent home for the Croatian could be the key to success for Carlo Ancelotti.
Lose the Attitude
Too often under Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid were accused of starting fixtures with an agenda other than that of winning the game. And on more than one occasion, it was an approach that came back to haunt them.
Gamesmanship was a regular barb thrown at Mourinho and his players, with Barcelona star Xavi just one of a string of professionals in Spain that questioned Real’s intentions in an interview with Sport, as reported on Goal.
The tactic contributed to fractures in the Bernabeu dressing room, and with egos and reputations on the line, relationships between the manager and his players began to fray.
Madrid teams of old are celebrated not only for their successes, but for their grace and style, and Ancelotti would do well to remind his players of that before a ball is kicked.
Continue to Get the Best out of Cristiano Ronaldo
Over the past three seasons, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goalscoring record has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Some pointed to his manager’s counter-attacking style as a principal factor, others highlighted the Portuguese international’s natural ability. Either way, 164 goals in 168 games under Jose Mourinho was an incredible return.
The subject of much speculation this summer amid reports of a move back to the Premier League, Ronaldo’s future appears a little clearer following a recent interview in which he ruled out an immediate return to Manchester United.
And with that as a springboard ahead of another European campaign, Ancelotti must chisel out a role that ensures that prolific form continues on the biggest stage of all.
Find Another Dimension
Overwhelming the opposition on the break only works against certain teams in certain circumstances, but in the latter stages of the Champions League, often another dimension is required to navigate an encounter over two legs.
Mourinho’s critics point to the fact that Madrid's counter-attacking formula was often too easy to decipher for their competitors—an argument backed up emphatically following their semi-final collapse in Dortmund.
While Real undoubtedly possess the individuals to cause havoc against lesser sides, more resolute teams from the likes of Germany and Italy have become proficient at nullifying such a threat.
And under Ancelotti, collectively they will have to become a far more flexible unit if they are to end their 12-year wait for Champions League success.
Resolve the Goalkeeping Situation
The beating heart of Real Madrid for over 14 years, goalkeeper Iker Casillas discovered a new, unwanted experience last season after losing his place in the side to Diego Lopez.
Casillas remained gracious in front of the cameras, but following Jose Mourinho’s exit from the Bernabeu, the 32-year-old opened up in an interview with FIFA’s official website, admitting his anguish at being left out in the cold.
While few questioned the subsequent form of Lopez, Casillas’ standing among the club’s followers and his iconic status as Spain’s World Cup-winning captain makes for an intriguing situation.