Carlo Ancelotti's Tactical Surprises Backfire in Real Madrid's Loss to Barcelona

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Carlo Ancelotti's Tactical Surprises Backfire in Real Madrid's Loss to Barcelona
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Few could have predicted the Real Madrid team which Carlo Ancelotti unveiled an hour before kickoff in El Clasico on Saturday evening.

Asier Illarramendi dropped out of the side which beat Juventus in the Champions League in midweek, but it wasn't a midfielder or a forward who replaced him.

In his place, Raphael Varane returned to play alongside Pepe in the middle of defence.

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It meant a midfield role for captain Sergio Ramos, while Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale beat off competition from Alvaro Arbeloa and Karim Benzema to start at Barcelona's packed Camp Nou stadium.

Barcelona went on to win the game, and questions will presumably be asked over why Ancelotti felt the need to shuffle his pack in such a manner for such an important match.

Carvajal was no doubt included with the fear that Neymar could do to Alvaro Arbeloa what he did to the Spanish full back in the Confederations Cup final in the summer.

And while the Brazilian didn't produce reign of terror down the left side, he was still able to open the scoring for Barca.

With mesmerising technique, Andres Iniesta fed the Brazilian who had been left in too much space by Carvajal—his shot then took a deflection off Madrid's right-back as it nestled in Diego Lopez's bottom corner.

Meanwhile Ramos in midfield, a ploy aimed at closing space in the areas Barca's forwards enjoy dropping into, never looked especially effective.

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It he hadn't been booked after 14 minutes for clattering into Neymar, the narrative may have been different, but he was booked and his role was limited from there on.

Perhaps in a nod of admission of defeat toward his own tactics, Ancelotti's first change, with the game still at 1-0, was to replace his captain with Asier Illarramendi in the 56th minute.

His next wildcard, Bale, didn't last much longer either.

Karim Benzema came on for the Welshman just after the hour following a performance which will raise questions—although Ancelotti will bat them away—over whether the former Tottenham man was ready to start a game of such pedigree.

On the other side of the divide, Gerardo Martino's Barca seemed to get things spot on.

They were nothing like the tiki-taka obsessed team of recent years—a long ball which saw Neymar draw a fantastic save from Diego Lopez will testify to that—and restricted Madrid, until the last few minutes, to very little.

Alexis Sanchez's chipped winner was a suitable winner for a match of this stature, too.

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It's not a disaster for Madrid, nor for Ancelotti, though—alarm bells needn't ring out around the Spanish capital

The defeat may leave them six points behind their Catalan rivals, but there's still a long season ahead.

Both sides are still coming together and finding their feet under new management, with injuries perhaps hampering Madrid's process a little more than their Clasico rivals.

Ancelotti can look forward to the return of Xabi Alonso and, hopefully, the return to match fitness of Bale.

With a little bit of luck come the return fixture at the Bernabeu, with plenty of time and matches in between, the Italian coach won't have to try and play his jokers against Barcelona—he'll have already found a system which works.

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