Carlo Ancelotti Is Facing an Early Crisis of Style and Substance at Real Madrid

Guillem BalagueFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti showed during his successful tenure at Chelsea that he was a good coach—a loyal club man, a great massager of egos and generally an all-round good egg.

When he first joined Chelsea, he looked to use the 4-3-3 system, but as early as his second game, he switched to the 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation because he felt it was the better option. Later, he swapped between both setups.

No one should doubt his tactical nous. But what Ancelotti needs now, to get the best out of his Real Madrid side, is probably the one thing that he hasn’t got—time.

Ancelotti has problems. After the derby defeat to Atletico, Madrid are five points adrift from top spot in La Liga and Ancelotti is seemingly in charge of a team ill-equipped to play the style of game he has been asked to play. Things at the Bernabeu are looking shaky. Just seven games in, and already Ancelotti has changed his approach on more than one occasion.

Initially, as per Marca, he proclaimed his team would play a passing game. Soon after, in an interview with AS, he seemed to alter his stance. "We don't need 30 passes...I can’t go against the qualities in my players, and if we find the solution in three passes instead of 30, that’s what we’ll do. I’m Italian, and the counter is one option I like.”

After Madrid's loss on Sunday, a game in which Ancelotti replaced Isco with Alvaro Morata as his team sought an equaliser, the Madrid coach was clearly unhappy with how his tactics played out.

"The buildup is slow, and when the ball reaches the forwards there is no space," Ancelotti said, according to Reuters. "We need to be a bit more direct, move a bit quicker and play with greater movement. The system isn't the problem, the problem is speed."

Isco's talent is undoubted
Isco's talent is undoubtedDavid Ramos/Getty Images

As we all know, Real is a club where style and results are given the same importance.

Ancelotti is facing these kinds of demands for the first time, but he hasn’t got the team to play the type of game he wants to. Real Madrid have pace to burn and are naturally a counter-attacking side, but the desire has always been for them to be the aggressor, the protagonist.

That is how the president, Florentino Perez, wants them to play.   

Ancelotti began with a 4-3-3, but now he is using 4-4-2 with a front two of Karim Benzema, who is constantly missing in action, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is wandering around like a lost boy because there's no link to him. Mesut Ozil, now at Arsenal, is already being missed.  

Isco is a magnificent player, but he is far more forward-minded than Ozil and cannot maintain the rhythm of play that the German could. Against Atletico, Ancelotti made the mistake of starting Asier Illarramendi instead of Luka Modric, although he corrected that at halftime before sacrificing Isco for Morata, when perhaps the more ruthless replacement of Benzema would have been wiser.

Should Madrid have sold Benzema?
Should Madrid have sold Benzema?Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Why did he keep Benzema on? Some commentators believe it is because he is a protege of the president, and Ancelotti is a club man.

Meanwhile, Madrid's players (Ronaldo among them; see this BBC article) are blaming themselves for what is going on. It feels like they are still in a virtual state of decompression after the turbulent Jose Mourinho years. At the moment, it is hard for them to follow with the intensity required for the tactical obligations they have to fulfill with and without the ball. 

After just seven games, rumblings of discontent can already be heard from sections of the media and some of the fans. There is already a sense of disenchantment in the building, made worse by the fact that the two teams they probably dislike the most—deadly rivals Barcelona and noisy neighbours Atletico Madrid—have hit the ground running with 100 percent starts to the season.

Ancelotti needs time, but people are very impatient at the Bernabeu.