Real Madrid: Between Patience and Ambition

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

New Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti's start to the season has been quite eventful - partly characterized by the sharp contrast between the effective performances in the Champions League and the underwhelming (and at times poor) "cinema" in La Liga.

New Coach, New Players, New Style

The media narrative surrounding Ancelotti's arrival focused heavily on the significance of the hire footballing wise. Ancelotti's presence would apparently signal a return to Real Madrid's possession based attacking football - the "beautiful" game. The Italian did little to dispel these notions embracing the presumptions of the press by announcing his intentions to forge a different more proactive footballing identity:

The objective is clear. The most prestigious club in the world want to win by playing spectacular football. The tradition at this club is one of attacking play and with the quality available it will not be difficult to introduce that.

Carlo Ancelotti to UEFA.com

With the recruitment of Isco, Illaramendi, Carvajal and the promotion of Jesé and Morata, Real Madrid and Ancelotti's vision became clear: to build a team that could control matches with possession and create chances.

The reaction from supporters and the press was mostly enthusiastic; while some noted the pointlessness and impracticality of moving the team away from one of its greatest strengths (counter-attacking), many believed the Whites had the assets necessary to transition to the "healthier" football philosophy.

Current Opinions and Perspectives

The Doubts

Real Madrid's rather mediocre displays in the league coupled with their current league position (5 points shy of leaders Atletico Madrid and Barcelona) have invited criticism from fans and the media: specifically directed at the manager's tactics, image and persona. A lot of supporters are still suffering from the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought about by the psychologically exhausting exercise in futility that was last season's campaign. Consequently, Ancelotti's decisions are (and will be) observed behind a window of anxious cynicism, frustration and multiplying incredulity. Last year served as a blinding reminder that La Liga is an intense relentless race with very few points to be spared.

The 100 point league: Chasing La Liga

The above chart* indicates a significant jump in the 2009/2010 La Liga season in terms of points accumulated by the champion. Pep Guardiola's second year in charge of FC Barcelona reinforced the growing duopoly of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona -- their stranglehold on the league leading to extremely competitive battles at the top of the table. During this time (2009 - present), La Liga champions have progressively dropped fewer points failing to capture just 14 points in each of the past two seasons compared to approximately 27.4 points dropped on average from 2001 to 2013 - 34.4 points excluding the last five seasons. This closely ties in to the high goal difference** of champions in recent years compared to the past decade as league winners are conceding less and scoring more.

Positive Truths

On the other side of the reaction spectrum, there are the legions (one would imagine) of Madrid loyalists that are taking an optimistic view on the situation.

  • Real Madrid has begun the Champions League very impressively scoring a record 10 goals in their first two games of the continental tournament.
  • The team has shown flashes of enormous potential against Athletic Bilbao and Getafe. The fact that it managed to ultimately secure victories in difficult matches against spirited sides - something they couldn't do last year - is highlighted as an indicator of progress.
  • Furthermore, this group of supporters associates the infusion of youth into the team with a sense of stability that can only be fully attained by affording the new coach the time necessary to acclimatize to his new surroundings and environment.

Failing to Deliver?

Although it has only been a little over a month since the season officially began, some fans are beginning to doubt the capabilities of Ancelotti and whether he will fulfill his promise.

Firstly, there is a lot of bitterness and disillusionment over his perceived role in the sale of German playmaker Özil - one of the players (popularly) believed to strongly suit the style of football Ancelotti envisions(ed) for the team.

Secondly, apart from a couple of good performances, Real Madrid hasn't lavished its fans with expansive passing and dynamic penetration often struggling to maintain ground against vibrant organized teams like Villareal. Statistics* however show Madrid averaging 62% of the ball and 84.4% passing accuracy this league season to date which represent notable increases over last year's figures of 55.7% and 81.7%. Although the sample sizes are very different and thus not ideal for drawing conclusions, it is fair to surmise that the present set-up promotes greater ball retention which is evident in matches played.

Expectations for this season extend beyond simply the style of play as many fans believe that players in the class of Ronaldo, Varane, López, Marcelo, Modrić, Isco, di Maria etc. are capable of winning anything if properly coached -- they believe that a coach of Ancelotti's calibre shouldn't need an entire year to unlock the team's full potential.

Reconciling Thoughts

Ancelotti is a perplexing character who seems to be able to reach a compromise in the face of any conflicts or differing views.

Lopez is performing better so he is selected to play but Casillas' good form cannot be ignored so he will play in the Champions League. The entire team must defend in order to close down spaces and maintain integrity as a unit but Ronaldo's goals are very crucial to our campaign and he will play as a forward. We will play possession but will not shy away from employing other tactics such as counterattacking given it is a key strength of the team. 4-3-2-1. 4-4-2. 4-3-3.

He is also an excellent coach with a great analytical mind and his attitude is conducive to a calm dressing room atmosphere which at the very least prevents the team from getting distracted by idle issues.

Real Madrid has exceeded and fallen short of expectations as it has managed relatively well without the availability of important players but has failed to develop a dependable playing system that can be utilized to navigate league waters.

The season is far too young to judge the performance of the coach and team but there have been enough matches that some contextual assessments can be reasonably made.

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*Statistics retrieved from lfp.com (La Liga BBVA)

**The size of the figures in the table "La Liga Champions Match Records" correlates to the league winner's goal difference relative to other champions for the mapped period.

***Retrieved from whoscored.com

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