Just a month ago, when Real Madrid signed Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, and Keylor Navas to add to their already strong lineup consisting of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria, Gareth Bale, Xabi Alonso, and Luka Modric it seemed that Carlo Ancelotti was aiming at yet another Champions League trophy. Real Madrid had at least one star player in each position.
Last season, Ancelotti found success by adopting a counterattacking system – a blend of 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, which not only helped him in taking full advantage of his team’s attacking prowess but also strengthened Real’s defence. Real Madrid produced an unbeaten run of 18 games in La Liga.
Credit goes to Ancelotti for transforming his team from Jose Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 to a more responsible one. Throughout the season, “balance” was Ancelotti’s mantra – a balance between attack and defence. Changing from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 while defending, and counter attacking on the breaks was the tactic used by the Italian. At the core of this system were two players, who helped in the transition from defence to attack – Di Maria and Alonso. How will Real Madrid cope in the absence of these two, who formed the backbone of Real’s Champions League success?
Angel di Maria’s importance is discussed here. This season, Modric will have to do what Di Maria did in his time at Real – to play as a connector between attack and defence. Modric can easily play as a box to box midfielder. But his work rate is very poor compared to Di Maria’s. He gets tired and confines himself to the midfield region in the final stages of the game.
Alonso was the pivot of the Los Blancos – played the role of a deep-lying playmaker. His role was to defend by slipping into the space between Pepe and Sergio Ramos and provide long balls to the forwards. Kroos will have to fill his place. Take Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid as an example. Kroos, playing for Munich, was lurking outside Real’s 18 yard box trying to find through balls whereas Alonso was doing exactly the opposite thing – intercepting the passes and quickly transforming a defensive setup to an attacking one. Kroos, in my opinion, cannot put a constraint on himself. He is not a natural defensive midfielder.
The attack mindedness and poor tracking ability of the two central midfielders, the core of the team, leaves Madrid in a vulnerable position. The advanced position of the wingbacks further weakens Real’s defence. Lack of co-ordination between Pepe and Ramos makes it easy for the opposition to find the back of the net.
Ancelotti found himself in a similar position last year. He devised a new system and won the Champions League. Expect him to revert back to 4-2-3-1 formation. The two wingers Ronaldo and Bale play in a bit deeper position when compared to 4-3-3. This automatically pushes the two central midfielders deeper, thus reducing the space between the defensive and midfield lines. Kroos can play as deep-lying playmaker and Modric as a box-to-box midfielder. In the later stages of the match, when Modric gets tired, he can swap his position with Kroos.
If Ancelotti adopts this tactic, then the presence of two midfielders, who act as the first defensive line, will provide Pepe and Ramos enough time to position themselves when the opposition attack.