Real Madrid, pictured ahead of a preseason friendly. But who will make the season's starting XI?
In his first season at the helm of the club, the Italian will have to choose a starting XI from a cornucopia of new, established and rising talent.
Fresh from winning Ligue 1 with Paris-Saint Germain and with Chelsea, AC Milan and Juventus on his managerial CV, Ancelotti is not new to dealing with moneyed clubs, their capricious owners and star players.
Real Madrid underachieved last term. After starting brightly with a Spanish Supercopa win, it became a messy campaign, full of infighting yet empty of further silverware.
Perhaps Ancelotti can restore balance to the side left so askew last season.
Over the following slides, I have predicted Ancelotti’s first-choice starting XI, including only players who are currently at the Bernabeu (so no Gareth Bale).
Agree with my choices? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below!
Iker Casillas—dropped to the bench under Mourinho.
If I were Real Madrid manager for a day, not only would I put an end to the club's pursuit of Bale and swan around in the boardroom, I would also put Diego Lopez in goal.
Due to a spat with Jose Mourinho and a hand injury, Casillas was forced onto the sidelines last season, giving Lopez an extended run in the side.
Lopez deputised so well that he put himself into contention to be Los Blancos' first-choice goalkeeper for 2013/14.
His performances against Manchester United in the Champions League were so good that even Sir Alex Ferguson said he wished Casillas had been in goal, so his side could have won the game. He told Manutd.com:
He wouldn't have saved the shots that the boy Lopez did. Going out to Danny Welbeck in the first half, going down at Robin van Persie’s feet, coming out and whacking Nemanja Vidic in the head... Casillas isn’t that type of goalkeeper and I think Lopez saved them.
But will Lopez get a starting berth this season in La Liga? Probably not.
Despite chalking up more playing time in the team's seven preseason friendlies than Casillas, Lopez will probably be Ancelotti's second-choice for the season-opener against Real Betis.
Casillas, without question, is also a fantastic No. 1. However, at the moment it's his popularity that will see him picked ahead of Lopez.
After last season's Mourinho vs Casillas affair, which swiftly turned into Mourinho vs all-but-Essien-Lopez-and-Modric, one of Ancelotti's easiest moves to get the fans on his side is to field Casillas as keeper and team captain.
However it plays out, Madridistas will be thrilled to have two world-class options between the sticks.
Madrid get their man. Again.
The player with the most amount of preseason minutes for Real Madrid is Daniel Carvajal.
The 21-year-old was signed by Real Madrid in June, after having an outstanding season at Bayer Leverkusen.
The club used a buy-back option that they had put into his contract when they sold him to the Bundesliga side in 2012.
Some would suggest that Los Blancos should never have sold him in the first place. But this is Madrid, they have the money to recapture you if they want you. Plus, a year in Germany did wonders for the youngster.
Carvajal only spent one season at Leverkusen, yet he was named in the division's top three right-backs on Bundesliga.com.
In addition to his defensive capabilities, Carvajal's excellent positioning, tireless work rate, superb technique and pace make it easy to see why Madrid wanted to bring him home.
Raphael Varane—an automatic choice.
Varane's composed-beyond-his-years performances against Barcelona and Manchester United last season saw him named in an outstanding XI of La Liga, a list compiled by UEFA.com and reported on Madrid’s official website.
The 20-year-old's goal against Barcelona on his El Clasico debut saw him become an instant hero. Varane also scored his side’s third goal in the return leg of the Copa del Rey tie at the Camp Nou, where Madrid won 3-1. Yes, definitely a hero.
Sergio Ramos shows off his new blond 'do.'
Hopefully, Sergio Ramos can learn a thing or two from rising star Varane about how not to pick up silly bookings.
If you take the needless fouls away from Ramos' game, he is a fantastic defender.
His aggression, stamina and ability to weigh in with important goals definitely gets him the nod ahead of any other central defender at the club.
The 27-year-old has already made 343 appearances for Madrid, where he has scored 40 goals and registered 26 assists.
Real Madrid's Marcelo.
A metatarsal fracture kept Marcelo out of Real Madrid's lineup for extended periods last season, but now back to full fitness, the Brazilian could be an outstanding performer in a World Cup year.
Luka Modric, pictured during a preseason friendly against Paris Saint-Germain.
I think that Ancelotti will stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation used by Jose Mourinho last season.
Boasting an incredible range of passing, Modric has the ability to change the course of a game, which he demonstrated perfectly against Manchester United in the Champions League last season.
Last term, Modric was one of Madrid's most improved players—coming a long way since Marca described the Croatian as the worst signing of 2012.
Madrid's 'industrious' midfielder, Sami Khedira.
Khedira gets the nod as holding midfielder.
The 26-year-old featured in all of Madrid's seven games during their preseason tour in Europe and the United States, clocking up 410 minutes of playing time.
While not the showiest of Madrid players and not a game-changer in the Modric mould, every team needs at least one industrious midfielder.
Which is where Khedira comes in. In a squad so full of attacking talent, someone needs to defend and the Germany international is the man to sit back and take on those duties.
I expect Khedira to rotate with Alonso, who will probably have a delayed start to the season following a groin operation on June 7.
Asier Illarramendi is also knocking on the door and should be the eventual successor to Alonso.
Cristiano Ronaldo—six goals scored in preseason friendlies.
Reason number one that Madrid don't actually need Bale—they already have one of the best left-sided players of all time in CR7.
And waiting in the wings are rising stars Jese Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata.
Ronaldo has already scored six goals during preseason, which suggests he will hit the ground running.
With Ronaldo, Isco and Ozil tucked in behind Karim Benzema, Real Madrid can compete with Barcelona this season.
Ronaldo can also deputise as an out-and-out striker, should Benzema suffer injury. Last season the Portugal international scored:
34 goals in 34 La Liga games.
12 goals in 12 Champions League matches.
7 goals in 7 Copa del Rey fixtures.
2 goals in 2 Supercopa games.
Now that's symmetry.
Mesut Ozil—a genuine playmaker.
In Europe's top five divisions, Ozil created the most clear-cut chances last season.
In a league of his own when it comes to the number of true playmakers on the current stage, he is the best No. 10 Germany have had for years.
Frequently played out of position on the right wing, Ozil is meant to be conducting play and works best in the center of the park.
With Ronaldo and Isco to his left and right, respectively, Ozil can focus on being the team's central playmaker.
Ancelotti hopes to bring "the most spectacular football" to the Bernabeu. With these attacking midfielders at his disposal, the 54-year-old looks set to deliver.
Isco—Ancelotti's first Real Madrid signing.
Reason number two why Real Madrid don't need Bale.
Ancelotti's side managed to beat off a lot of competition when it came to signing Isco over the summer. Described by Marca's Pablo Polo as having "Zidane's class and Aguero's shimmy," it's no surprise he was being tracked by a host of clubs before Madrid snapped him up.
A winner of the UEFA U21 European Championship, the 21-year-old has also received a call-up for the senior squad's upcoming friendly with Ecuador, as seen in Marca.
The beauty of an Isco-Ozil-Ronaldo midfield is the ability to interchange with each other, which will keep their opponents constantly guessing and consistently harried.
The Spaniard has also been working on a new side to his game—improving his defensive duties. Quoted on the club's official website this week, he said:
The boss wants us to have the ball and have freedom and creativity on the pitch. I think that we're going to see a really beautiful Real Madrid this season.
I didn't play as defensively with Malaga but I'll adapt to whatever the team asks.
It could be a prolific season for Karim Benzema.
Considering the wealth of attack-minded players behind him, the stage is set for Benzema to have a stellar season.
Last term was quite disappointing—the Frenchman getting a return of 12 goals in 30 La Liga games.
With a new manager and Zinedine Zidane now part of the coaching staff, the Ancelotti regime could inspire confidence in the French international.
If he can recapture the 20-plus goals that he weighed in with in 2011/12, Benzema can call the Los Blancos striker's position his own.
Still only 25, this could be his year.