Real Madrid vs. Manchester United: What Carlo Ancelotti Learned in Champions Cup

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2014

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United: What Carlo Ancelotti Learned in Champions Cup

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    Real Madrid suffered a third consecutive pre-season defeat on Saturday, going down 3-1 to Manchester United in front of 109,000 fans at a packed Michigan Stadium.

    Already out of the running in the International Champions Cup after defeats to Inter Milan and Roma, Carlo Ancelotti fielded another experimental side as Los Blancos continue their preparations for the 2014-15 season.

    In Ann Arbor, however, Real Madrid were well off the pace set by Louis van Gaal's men.

    Capping off a sublime move forward, Ashley Young put United ahead after 21 minutes by beating Iker Casillas with a strong strike into the bottom-left corner.

    Just six minutes later, Gareth Bale drew a penalty for Ancelotti's men, levelling the game himself with a calmly taken kick from the spot. But that was as bright as it got for the European champions.

    In the 37th minute, Young registered his second goal of the afternoon when a cross to Wayne Rooney found its way into the back of the net, while Javier Hernandez added the finishing touch with a cool headed finish late on to seal the result.

    Across the following slides, we examine what Ancelotti will have learned from Real Madrid's encounter with Manchester United on Saturday.

The Opening Weeks of the Season Will Be a Challenge for Real Madrid

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    It would be foolish to conclude that Real Madrid's trio of defeats in the United States are an ominous warning for Los Blancos ahead of the new season.

    With players returning to the squad at staggered intervals, new signings yet to be fully integrated into the team, stars linked with exits from the Bernabeu and the presence of the club's youth products on the current tour, one can hardly expect the European champions to be in top gear at this early stage.

    However, what became clear on Saturday was that Ancelotti's biggest challenge over the coming 12 months will arrive in the early weeks of the 2014-15 season.

    While other teams—Manchester United representing an obvious example—will enjoy the benefits of a more seamless pre-season, Real Madrid are likely to be searching for form, fitness and cohesion when their new campaign begins on the weekend of August 24.

    Needing to blend new talent, tinker with tactical systems and schedule appropriate recovery periods for exhausted stars in the wake of the World Cup, Ancelotti is unlikely to have a fully firing outfit in the opening weeks of the upcoming season.

    Needing to maintain pace with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Los Blancos will need to successfully navigate through a difficult beginning if they are to reclaim the Spanish league title.

Isco's Transition to a Forward Will Take Time

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    During Real Madrid's pre-season campaign, Ancelotti has been eager to dismiss the notion that Real Madrid are searching for further striking options.

    Despite being left with only Karim Benzema as a true centre-forward following Alvaro Morata's move to Juventus, the manager has insisted the squad already possesses the talent that is needed to cover the position, indicating that Isco is capable of playing as a false nine in Benzema's absence, per Marca.

    On Saturday against Manchester United, the 22-year-old was given the chance to impress in that new role, starting as the central figure of a makeshift front three that contained Daniel Carvajal.

    Although his opportunities were limited, Isco struggled to make an impression as a forward, failing to trouble Van Gaal's back three despite appearing comfortable when coming to meet his team-mates in midfield.

    Of course, switching from the role of an aggressive central midfielder or an out-and-out No. 10 to a false nine will never be a straightforward transition.

    Isco's performance at Michigan Stadium on Saturday served as a reminder for exactly that.

Defensive Issues Are Still a Major Concern

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    There's good reason why Real Madrid have only captured the league title once in the last six seasons: The team's defence continues to hamper the effect of a devastating attacking squadron.

    Despite cracking the 100-goal mark in each of the previous five La Liga campaigns, Los Blancos' inability to display the same excellence at the back has seen expected silverware elude the men from the Bernabeu.

    On Saturday, those defensive issues were again evident, even in the presence of the team's senior centre-back pairing in Pepe and Sergio Ramos.

    In a 3-4-1-2 formation, Manchester United's wing-backs presented problems for Real Madrid's improvised XI, regularly dragging the European champions out of shape and allowing Juan Mata to dictate play in space from his central position.

    United's first goal to Ashley Young—a superb exhibition of pass-and-move football—had Ancelotti's back four scrambling, while the second saw a Young cross find the back of the net as Wayne Rooney challenged Ramos for a header in an abundance of space inside the box.

    The Red Devils' third goal also rendered Real Madrid's defence ineffective, seeing Javier Hernandez punish a disjointed defensive line.

Gareth Bale Is Ready to Live Up to His Price Tag

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    After 22 goals and 17 assists in all competitions during his first year in Madrid, it could be argued that Gareth Bale has already lived up to his billing since his switch from Tottenham last summer.

    But observing the Welshman during Real Madrid's pre-season campaign in the United States has left little doubt that Bale is set for a breathtaking season ahead.

    Again on Saturday, the 25-year-old was his team's standout player, drawing a first-half penalty, testing David de Gea with a long-range free-kick and getting in behind Manchester United's defence on several occasions.

    Benefitting from a summer of rest and a pre-season that he was denied of last year, the explosive forward appears ready to be a dominant figure in Real's 2014-15 campaign and will likely justify his £85 million transfer fee in the process.

    Defenders across Europe have been warned.