Carlo Ancelotti shows his immense adaptability with another title win in LaLiga

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Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is far from being a proponent of positional play but he is definitely someone who is a shining light of adaptability in the modern-day sport. The Italian has shown that once again with his title win at Real Madrid.


By Kaustubh Pandey


Perhaps, the best example of Ancelotti’s tactical nous and pragmatism is the case of Jude Bellingham, who arrived at Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund as a midfielder. 

During his time in Germany, and with Gareth Southgate’s England national team, Bellingham was generally used as a box-to-box midfielder who was most effective in and around the final third. While he often played a deeper role at Dortmund, Bellingham wasn’t seen as a player whose future lay in a deep midfield position.

The move to Real Madrid came when Los Blancos were, as it always has been the case, linked with a move for Kylian Mbappé. The exception at that point was that Karim Benzema was heading towards the exit door and Real Madrid desperately needed a striker who could fill in the boots of the Frenchman. Besides Mbappé, even Victor Osimhen was linked, and Joselu was roped in from Espanyol, albeit, he wasn’t expected to be a regular starter for the club.

As the transfer window slammed shut, Real ended the phase with no star striker signed and the big-money signature of Bellingham, who had never played upfront before.

But when a positional play-oriented manager would have first put his system before the strengths of the unit, Ancelotti did the opposite. He put the needs and strengths of his best players first and that isn’t something he is a stranger to. After all, this is a manager who once played four attacking midfielders in the same team during his historic stint at Milan.

Bellingham has been utilised to his absolute strength. Ancelotti’s usage of him as a false nine has seen his final third ability get expedited, thereby making sure that he scores more. Bellingham is less involved in build-up and is doing what he is best at – being dangerous around the penalty area. That was highlighted in his performances for club and country, but the burden of operating in more positional systems made sure that he plays deeper.

The 20-year-old hasn’t just scored goals, he has scored at vital points. Early on in the campaign, he contributed to all three goals in a 3-1 win over Almería. He followed that up with goals in close wins over Celta Vigo and Getafe. The goals against Barcelona have been the real highlights but there is a killer instinct to his approach in the final third, as is shown by the significant overperformance on his xG by a significant margin.

Whether that overperformance happens next season remains to be seen but the Englishman playing in a false nine role makes sure that the wide players – Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, have a lot of free space to operate in and also have a target inside the box. Space, room and time on the ball is exactly what an explosive inside forward like Vinícius needs. 

Handing him that time on the ball and the licence to take defenders on is exactly why Vini’s numbers have increased since Ancelotti returned to the club.

There is a clear pattern at play. Ancelotti joined after a strange spell at Everton in the 2021/22 season and his ability to alter the system for the players has made sure that Vinícius is scoring more than 20 goals each season.

With his current tally at 21, there is every chance that this season ends up being his most successful – at least in terms of goals scored. That could even catapult him into the Ballon d’Or picture.

While some sections of the fanbase do still criticise Rodrygo, he too has the chance to make this his best goalscoring season and he is developing into a forward who hits double figures regularly. Having the surprise element of a false nine around him seems to have helped Rodrygo too.

Fede Valverde has scored only twice but the Uruguayan has now become an all-important and versatile engine in the side. His constant movement across the midfield and the frontline makes him the perfect fit for a system that relies on adapting, shape shifting, and compromise.

Young Arda Güler already has two goals and while Brahim Díaz was consistently inconsistent in his loan stint at Milan, he has ten goals back at Madrid, and that is the highest goalscoring tally of his career in a single season.

Then there’s also the curious case of Joselu, who is a very different player to Bellingham. But when the Spaniard steps on the pitch, it is almost as if a switch is flicked and the approach changes, which has made sure that Joselu also has a tally of 15 goals across all competitions.

It is fairly easy to forget how young the spine of the Real side is. Aurélien Tchouaméni is 24 and Eduardo Camavinga is 21. While Tchouaméni has often played at centre-back in times of need, Camavinga has been used differently, even compared to last season.

The 21-year-old was often used at left-back but he has operated quite centrally this season and he too has shown the adaptive qualities that Ancelotti adores in an individual. 

One of Camavinga’s main strengths is his ability to carry the ball forward and move it quickly, which is perhaps why Ancelotti used him at left-back last season and still uses him there sometimes, as we saw recently against Barcelona.

The Frenchman’s case can be used as a template for how good Ancelotti is at identifying what a player is good at, and then using him as per that strength, depending on how and when the team can benefit from that quality.

In fact, there were question marks over when the talented French duo of Tchouaméni and Camavinga would become regulars in the first-team. This season has been one where they indeed have become regulars, with Luka Modrić’s role gradually reduced. Toni Kroos has been sublime, showing what a resurgence truly looks like.

Camavinga has deputised at left-back at rare points this season but Fran García’s incorporation in a side at the highest level is another major positive for Los Blancos. The low-key summer signing has made regular starts, coming up with four assists and his transition to being a regular at the club has been another pleasing aspect of the season.

It isn’t as if injuries haven’t troubled the side – they have. Thibaut Courtois, who single handedly won Real a Champions League final two seasons ago, has been missing for a major part of the season. When that could have proved to be a negative, Andriy Lunin has made his mark between the sticks and has emerged as not just someone who can be an effective back-up, but an effective first-choice as well.

In a way, the season could have been much worse for Real considering the injury list and that they hadn’t signed a leading striker over the summer. But that is exactly why Ancelotti and Los Blancos are the perfect match. The club has the perfect profiles to play his adaptive brand of football and Ancelotti never disappoints.


(Cover image from IMAGO)


You can follow every Real Madrid game on FotMob – with deep stats, xG, and players ratings. Download the free app here.

Carlo Ancelotti shows his immense adaptability with another title win in LaLiga

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is far from being a proponent of positional play but he is definitely someone who is a shining light of adaptability in the modern-day sport. The Italian has shown that once again with his title win at Real Madrid.


By Kaustubh Pandey


Perhaps, the best example of Ancelotti’s tactical nous and pragmatism is the case of Jude Bellingham, who arrived at Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund as a midfielder. 

During his time in Germany, and with Gareth Southgate’s England national team, Bellingham was generally used as a box-to-box midfielder who was most effective in and around the final third. While he often played a deeper role at Dortmund, Bellingham wasn’t seen as a player whose future lay in a deep midfield position.

The move to Real Madrid came when Los Blancos were, as it always has been the case, linked with a move for Kylian Mbappé. The exception at that point was that Karim Benzema was heading towards the exit door and Real Madrid desperately needed a striker who could fill in the boots of the Frenchman. Besides Mbappé, even Victor Osimhen was linked, and Joselu was roped in from Espanyol, albeit, he wasn’t expected to be a regular starter for the club.

As the transfer window slammed shut, Real ended the phase with no star striker signed and the big-money signature of Bellingham, who had never played upfront before.

But when a positional play-oriented manager would have first put his system before the strengths of the unit, Ancelotti did the opposite. He put the needs and strengths of his best players first and that isn’t something he is a stranger to. After all, this is a manager who once played four attacking midfielders in the same team during his historic stint at Milan.

Bellingham has been utilised to his absolute strength. Ancelotti’s usage of him as a false nine has seen his final third ability get expedited, thereby making sure that he scores more. Bellingham is less involved in build-up and is doing what he is best at – being dangerous around the penalty area. That was highlighted in his performances for club and country, but the burden of operating in more positional systems made sure that he plays deeper.

The 20-year-old hasn’t just scored goals, he has scored at vital points. Early on in the campaign, he contributed to all three goals in a 3-1 win over Almería. He followed that up with goals in close wins over Celta Vigo and Getafe. The goals against Barcelona have been the real highlights but there is a killer instinct to his approach in the final third, as is shown by the significant overperformance on his xG by a significant margin.

Whether that overperformance happens next season remains to be seen but the Englishman playing in a false nine role makes sure that the wide players – Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, have a lot of free space to operate in and also have a target inside the box. Space, room and time on the ball is exactly what an explosive inside forward like Vinícius needs. 

Handing him that time on the ball and the licence to take defenders on is exactly why Vini’s numbers have increased since Ancelotti returned to the club.

There is a clear pattern at play. Ancelotti joined after a strange spell at Everton in the 2021/22 season and his ability to alter the system for the players has made sure that Vinícius is scoring more than 20 goals each season.

With his current tally at 21, there is every chance that this season ends up being his most successful – at least in terms of goals scored. That could even catapult him into the Ballon d’Or picture.

While some sections of the fanbase do still criticise Rodrygo, he too has the chance to make this his best goalscoring season and he is developing into a forward who hits double figures regularly. Having the surprise element of a false nine around him seems to have helped Rodrygo too.

Fede Valverde has scored only twice but the Uruguayan has now become an all-important and versatile engine in the side. His constant movement across the midfield and the frontline makes him the perfect fit for a system that relies on adapting, shape shifting, and compromise.

Young Arda Güler already has two goals and while Brahim Díaz was consistently inconsistent in his loan stint at Milan, he has ten goals back at Madrid, and that is the highest goalscoring tally of his career in a single season.

Then there’s also the curious case of Joselu, who is a very different player to Bellingham. But when the Spaniard steps on the pitch, it is almost as if a switch is flicked and the approach changes, which has made sure that Joselu also has a tally of 15 goals across all competitions.

It is fairly easy to forget how young the spine of the Real side is. Aurélien Tchouaméni is 24 and Eduardo Camavinga is 21. While Tchouaméni has often played at centre-back in times of need, Camavinga has been used differently, even compared to last season.

The 21-year-old was often used at left-back but he has operated quite centrally this season and he too has shown the adaptive qualities that Ancelotti adores in an individual. 

One of Camavinga’s main strengths is his ability to carry the ball forward and move it quickly, which is perhaps why Ancelotti used him at left-back last season and still uses him there sometimes, as we saw recently against Barcelona.

The Frenchman’s case can be used as a template for how good Ancelotti is at identifying what a player is good at, and then using him as per that strength, depending on how and when the team can benefit from that quality.

In fact, there were question marks over when the talented French duo of Tchouaméni and Camavinga would become regulars in the first-team. This season has been one where they indeed have become regulars, with Luka Modrić’s role gradually reduced. Toni Kroos has been sublime, showing what a resurgence truly looks like.

Camavinga has deputised at left-back at rare points this season but Fran García’s incorporation in a side at the highest level is another major positive for Los Blancos. The low-key summer signing has made regular starts, coming up with four assists and his transition to being a regular at the club has been another pleasing aspect of the season.

It isn’t as if injuries haven’t troubled the side – they have. Thibaut Courtois, who single handedly won Real a Champions League final two seasons ago, has been missing for a major part of the season. When that could have proved to be a negative, Andriy Lunin has made his mark between the sticks and has emerged as not just someone who can be an effective back-up, but an effective first-choice as well.

In a way, the season could have been much worse for Real considering the injury list and that they hadn’t signed a leading striker over the summer. But that is exactly why Ancelotti and Los Blancos are the perfect match. The club has the perfect profiles to play his adaptive brand of football and Ancelotti never disappoints.


(Cover image from IMAGO)


You can follow every Real Madrid game on FotMob – with deep stats, xG, and players ratings. Download the free app here.