Carlo Ancelotti may have revealed his hand in naming an attack-heavy squad without the presence of a natural centre-forward to begin Thursday’s friendly against Los Angeles Galaxy in Glendale, Ariz.—a match in which his side prevailed 3-1.
Appointed as Jose Mourinho’s successor at Real Madrid in June, Ancelotti deployed each of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Isco and Kaka from the opening whistle against the reining Major League Soccer champions. France striker Karim Benzema began the match on the bench before replacing Ronaldo to start the second half.
But it was Ancelotti’s deployment of Kaka as a sort of “false nine” that especially raised eyebrows.
Having started only 12 Primera Division matches last season the 31-year-old was widely expected to only be on the periphery of Ancelotti’s plans going into the upcoming campaign, and while that still might be the case, his role on Thursday suggested a willingness from his former AC Milan boss to move him around the attack until he settles.
Of course, it’s not necessarily Kaka who will be leading the Madrid attack when the Spanish giants open their domestic season at home to Real Betis on August 17. In all likelihood that job will still belong to Benzema, although 20-year-old Spain U-21 star Alvaro Morata is banging on the door as well.
Still, it’s worth noting that Ancelotti at least seems prepared to part from time to time with the 4-2-3-1 formation used by Mourinho.
Karim Benzema: "Ancelotti has changed tactics and that’s good for the team. We are slowly getting stronger, but we are still in preseason.”— Messi Minutes (@MessiMinutes) July 29, 2013
Built around physical power and designed to punish opponents on the counter-attack, Mourinho’s system is still likely the 54-year-old’s preferred option, but with so many versatile attackers at his disposal he would be remiss to not at least experiment with other tactics every now and then.
In the first half against Los Angeles, all four of his attackers appeared to be nearly free in their roles, although Ronaldo and Di Maria still made most of their runs from out wide while Isco operated between them and just behind Kaka.
Isco, in particular, left a favourable impression at University of Phoenix Stadium, providing the initial ball to Ronaldo ahead of Di Maria’s opener and hitting an exceptional, long pass to Benzema for the two-goal lead just after the restart.
Isco hits a gorgeous long ball right to Benzema, who controls it before slotting it into the bottom left corner. It's 2-0 now. #ICC2013— Int Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) August 2, 2013
No doubt he’ll see plenty of first-team action in his first season at Madrid, and whether or not Ancelotti is able to revive Kaka’s career, it would seem the Meringues will be employing a rather more fluid, free-flowing brand of football than their supporters became used to during Mourinho’s tenure.