One of the most famous and successful football clubs of today, Real Madrid have time and again assembled a league of extraordinary footballers to form the Galácticos. Their astronomical bids have re-written the transfer logbook over the years. This year too has been no different. Carlo Ancelotti has received a star-studded team which will be expected to win every match. May be more than that – play exciting football, score at will and then WIN. Debojyoti Chakraborty analyzes how Real Madrid are going about achieving their goal this season

It should seem like an altogether different team – to the players, supporters and critics alike. Carlo Ancelotti has taken over at Santiago Bernabeu and he has wasted no time in stamping his authority. He is much calmer compared to his predecessor. The same approach is evident in their playing philosophy also. While José Mourinho deployed a quick transition from attack to defence, Ancelotti likes to build up an attack – hold on to the ball and pass it decisively.

One thing that has not changed is Iker Casillas being still sidelined. Diego Lopez has made the goalkeeper’s position his own since his introduction last season and has not let Casillas a foot in. This has been a peculiar situation with Spain’s national team captain and first choice shot-stopper not getting picked in his club team. Casillas is yet to play in La Liga – his appearances have been limited to a few Champions League games and domestic cup matches. But this is far from ideal for both Casillas and Vicente Del Bosque, national team coach with World Cup in Brazil just months away.

Sergio Ramos, the acting captain in the absence of Casillas, is partnered in the heart of the defensive unit by Pepe. He has been ever so consistent with his on-field theatrics, giving a hard time to Ancelotti as well as the whole team. None so evident than in the Champions League group stage match against Galatasaray where Ramos got himself sent off leaving Real to battle it out with 10 men on the pitch.

Luka Modrić: The Playmaker
Luka Modrić: The Playmaker


As far as the central midfielders are concerned, Luka Modrić has featured in the most number of matches this season and looks set to continue the trend. He is the complete playmaker Ancelotti wants – great command over the ball, perfect visionary and unmatched game reading. He knows when to slow the game down and when to raise the tempo. He will be pivotal in guiding the young midfielders like Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro playing around him.

With the introduction of Gareth Bale and departure of Mesut Özil, a revamp of attacking forces was evident. Actually, the shape has changed completely as Ancelotti does not prefer to have a number 10, so integral in a 4-2-3-1 system. He thrives on 4-4-2 with good quality midfielders who have good command over the ball, pass accurately and link up attack with defence. In his new set up, Bale has occupied the right wing, replacing Angel Di Maria, and Isco has been preferred in the middle to play just behind the striker up front. After a superb start to the season, the youngster has mellowed down a bit but definitely, he is a future star in the making. On the left is Cristiano Ronaldo – making it inverted wingers in both the flanks as both Ronaldo and Bale do not miss any opportunity to cut inside and shoot with their stronger foot.

Looking at the starting position of the players, it looks like Ancelotti is taking the tried and tested route of 4-4-2 or its derivative, 4-4-1-1. But that is only a superficial view of things. The right-sided attacking midfielder – be it Di Maria or Bale – is encouraged to stay wide all the time. This allows Isco to join Ronaldo and Benzema in attack, making it a lopsided 4-3-3. Alvaro Arbeloa, the right-back, needs to double up for this strategy to work. He is not a naturally attacking full-back and this is where Ancelotti is using Daniel Carvajal very effectively – Carvajal has started in 10 matches for Madrid, same compared to a much more experienced Arbeloa. Even after pampering the flanks, Madrid is keen to play through the defences to create an opening. Cut backs and one-twos are the order of the day – number of crosses measures up to only 4% of their total number of passes.

Madrid first choice XI
Madrid first choice XI

To give more stability to the team, the lone defensive midfielder is slotted in the right hand side of the park. Xabi Alonso, a perfect midfield anchorman and a technically brilliant footballer occupies this spot. His deputy, Illarramendi is another promising midfielder but he may eventually take up a more advanced role as he matures. Already facing stiff competition from Isco, this does not at all sound good for Sami Khedira.

Since the midfielders and attackers are shifting towards the left side of the pitch, leaving the right wing for Bale or overlapping Carvajal, the left full-back need not venture forward that much. This is where calm and composed Nacho could find himself being preferred to the flamboyant Marcello. Being a centre-back, Nacho gives an extra stability to Pepe and Ramos as well to make it a solid back three when rest of the team is in attack.

Up front there are question marks. Gonzalo Higuain has moved on to Napoli and Karim Benzema is the only recognised senior striker. He is deputised by promising newcomers Alvaro Morata and Jesé. This is far from ideal for a club of Real Madrid’s stature. Lack of options has seen Ronaldo sometimes been deployed as the frontman flanked by Bale and Di Maria in fluid and interchangeable front three of 4-3-3 line-up, but not with much success – most notably in El Clásico. But having Isco as a false 9 flanked by Ronaldo and Bale would be a mouth-watering prospect for launching a quick counter-attack. Besides, it gives Ancelotti the luxury of having one more central midfielder. Considering Ancelotti’s love for compact midfields, don’t be surprised if Real Madrid tries out this strategy, especially against very attack-minded opponents like Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Let us put things into perspective and compare the statistics of Real Madrid with their main competitors in La Liga.


Chances Created

Shot Accuracy

Goals Scored

Set Piece

Goals Conceded


Pass Accuracy

Avg. Pass Length (m)










Atletico Madrid









Real Madrid









Stats Galore from La Liga

Real are miles ahead in terms of chance created so far in the league. But most of these chances are not clear-cut ones – these chances have led to almost same number of shots towards goal and subsequent conversion compared to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. May be a more potent striker (poacher?) would have got them more goals out of half chances. For now, Real have to depend more on the set pieces – no wonder when you have Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to blast free kicks. But the most concerning part is the defence. Injury to Xabi Alonso has hurt them but Real are playing a more expansive game this season, unlike a more compact one à la José Mourinho squad. Real have conceded 21 goals so far – close to the combined figure of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. This is way too high for a club of Real’s stature – 18 of those have been from inside the box – and might just cost them the title.

Ancelotti: Cherishing the talent at his disposal
Ancelotti: Cherishing the talent at his disposal

Real Madrid current squad is still very young – only three players are aged over 30 including two goalkeepers. Yet the team is quite strong and there is no dearth of match winners. Add to that the amazing youth system all across Spain, and Real do possess a galaxy of upcoming superstars. Ancelotti will have hard times picking the right team for every match and giving adequate match time to his squad players. An intriguing challenge indeed. The task has taken its toll as Real have fallen behind a bit in La Liga. But the second half of the season could be much worse with a tricky tie against Schalke 04 waiting in the Champions League, Round of 16. One thing is for sure – Ancelotti will have lots to think about in 2014.