Real Madrid Defence Can Be Foundation for La Liga and Champions League Success

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2014

Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos, left, reacts next to Marcelo of Brazil during a Spanish La Liga soccer match against Getafe at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Saturday Oct. 31, 2009.  (AP Photo/Paul White)
Paul White/Associated Press

When a new manager arrives at a club with a distinct style that differs from his predecessor, then it can take time for his methods to come to fruition.

It's not simply about changing personnel or a shift in formation, the collective and individual messages need to be relayed, and are then understood at different rates.

Establishing a more possession-based game, whilst being a little more patient in the buildup is the main philosophy behind Carlo Ancelotti's thinking.

Under Jose Mourinho, Madrid's main weapon were the fast and direct transitions, with the counter attacking approach that he devised as an antidote to the incredible Barcelona of the time.

Though often regarded as a cautious coach, Mourinho mainly used a 4-2-3-1 and the emphasis was to blow the opposition away.

Ancelotti wants a solid base from back to front and the early signs of 2014 are that this is beginning to take shape.

Judging by the comments of some of his players, they are taking note. "Defensive stability is also one of the keys to a team’s success," remarked Sergio Ramos to the FIFA website.

"When you have a lot of players who carry a big threat going forward, if the defenders joined them in attack, you’d have practically no one left at the back."

Since the turn of the year, Madrid has kept six consecutive clean sheets. Until this point they had only eight in all competitions.

It's an incredible turnaround and especially when you consider they are alternating their goalkeepers between the cup and league.

Iker Casillas has even set a new personal record as he made it 592 minutes without conceding, beating his previous best of 520, via Football Espana.

"Hopefully this will be a long streak," reflected Casillas. "A clean sheet sets us up for victory with the attack we have."

But how have they shut up shop at the back?

Diego Lopez and Casillas may have to share the limelight, but in the heart of the defence Pepe and Sergio Ramos have been ever-present.

"The defence has been doing well and is looking strong," Ancelotti told a press conference. "Pepe and Ramos are the reason for the improvement that we have had."

In front of the pairing they are offered plenty of protection by a three man midfield, none of the players are particularly strong in the tackle, but their positioning often enables the interception.

Marcelo seems to have come back from the winter break in peak condition, which hasn't always been the case for the Brazilian.

The left-back has missed just one of these matches, where Fabio Coentrao produced an awful return to the team, ultimately ending in his dismissal.

On the right-hand side, Daniel Carvajal is getting better by the week and the normally dependable Alvaro Arbeloa is performing well in the Copa Del Rey in a bid to win back his position.

What's apparent is the amount of shots on target on Madrid's goal is of a low number.

You could derive from this that the opposition have been poor in front of goal, but the fact that it's happening continually suggests the defence are not allowing quality shots to come in.

Without being able to fashion clear cut chances, the opponents are taking shots from further out, tighter angles and snatching at efforts due to the pressure applied.

In all but one of the matches, Madrid have conceded only one shot on target, via Who Scored.

The game where it was as high as four shots could be partly attributed to Coentrao's disappointing evening, as half of the overall shots came from his area in the win at Osasuna.

If Madrid continue to defend in this manner against superior opponents, then they will be in the perfect position to claim a trophy or two.