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Carlo Ancelotti will need to find balance again

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With the additions of Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez, Carlo Ancelotti will probably need to spend quite some time to find that longed for balance in order to have a successful second season.

Denis Doyle

One of the main storylines surrounding Real Madrid's success last season was balance.

"Balance is the most important thing in football," Carlo Ancelotti stated in February.

Balance served as a key component to Madrid's European success last season. Following a shift to a 4-3-3 at the turn of the year, questions were raised regarding whether Ancelotti's side could improve over the summer.

However, standout performances from Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez at the World Cup have now seen the European champions tweaking with what appeared to be a cohesive unit.

With Kroos already joining Los Blancos last week, Rodriguez has reportedly completed a move to the Santiago Bernabeu for an astonishing 62 million pounds. Though the former's transfer seems considerably logical, there's a stark contrast regarding the latter's potential arrival.

In 2012, Kroos was the catalyst in Bayern Munich's semifinal victory over Real Madrid, in what served as the 24-year-old's breakout European game. In a battle between two elite sides, adopting identical systems, Kroos eclipsed compatriot Mesut Ozil in the no.10 role, ensuring that Bayern overloaded the midfield and dominated Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso. Bayern, however - despite a dominant performance - lost on spot kicks to Chelsea at the Allianz Arena, missing out on another glorious opportunity to claim European silverware.

Kroos' dream of cementing his authority on a European final still awaits, but the 24-year-old midfielder proved his value on the international stage, playing an integral role in Germany's World Cup triumph. Kroos was finally handed the trust and responsibility to dictate the middle of the park and he succeeded.

His public outcry in South Africa was overlooked, and his persistence to demand a place in the XI at Euro 2012 - and he had every right to question his role on the bench - led to turmoil in the dressing room. It's difficult analyzing Kroos' mannerisms; he remains emotionless with a considerable amount of composure, completing pass after pass with strict precision.

Still, based on performances in Brazil, Kroos appeared a contrasting figure from the young boy who considerably struggled defensively under Louis van Gaal at the turn of the decade. Every pass oozed with confidence, he located pockets of space to receive the ball like no other, and he battled in midfield like an experienced star combining power with precision.

This was the player Joachim Low and the world anticipated. The German midfielder serves as the ideal modern day playmaker. Kroos' time with Heynckes and Guardiola has seen the midfielder shift into a magnificent all-round midfielder. Kroos can play as the no.10 in a 4-2-3-1 and drop deep to assure his midfield isn't overrun out of possession, along with playing incisive penetrative final balls. He prefers to play on the left of a midfield three, and his appreciation of space allows him to receive the ball in vacant areas and circulate possession in a timely manner.

The German's ability to retain possession is unprecedented and according to whoscored.com he averaged 95.3 passes per game, with a 94.2 per-cent success rate. Equally, only his former Bayern teammates eclipsed his 75.5 passes per game in the Bundesliga, yet he topped the league with a 92 per-cent success rate. And if required, he's capable of coping with the combative encumbrances - it was displayed in the DFB Pokal final against Borussia Dortmund - as the single-pivot in a 4-3-3.

Where Kroos can easily slide into a midfield trio without affecting Ancelotti's plans, Rodriguez's move to the Bernabeu poses several issues for the European champions.

Rodriguez serves as a versatile playmaker that can thrive in the no.10 role or in either wide position. In Brazil, James displayed his ability to score goals, but also vary his positioning in the no.10 role to create chances for his teammates. Rodriguez led Ligue 1 with 12 assists, while only Mathieu Valbuena topping his 2.5 key passes per game.

Still, there's no natural playmaker role in Ancelotti's successful 4-3-3, and it's unknown as to whether Rodriguez possesses the defensive prowess, dynamism and tactical discipline to play as a shuttler in a midfield trio. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are irreplaceable on the wing, and it's unlikely that Ancelotti's attempts to field the Colombian in a false-nine role, following Karim Benzema's best season at the Bernabeu.

Likewise, if Madrid were to revert back to a 4-2-3-1, Rodriguez isn't the best no.10 at Ancelotti's disposal. Although Kroos can play in the double-pivot, the German is at his sheer best when he plays behind the striker.

Ancelotti's tenure at Real Madrid has seen the reigning European champions transition from a strictly counter-attacking outfit into a side that is keen on retaining possession. Arguably Ancelotti's greatest spell as a manager was at Milan where he fielded three playmakers in midfield, and that could be a potential option next season. However, while Ancelotti's flexibility has struck a balance stylistically, the arrival of Rodriguez poses a few dilemmas for the manager.

Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira's place in the starting XI, however, is at jeopardy. The two midfielders possess dynamism, power, pace and endless work rate in central areas, but the arrival of two creative players could limit their playing time, which explains why the former is projected to join PSG for 60 million euros, while the latter has been linked with Arsenal and Chelsea.

"I decided the departure of Ozil. I prefer di Maria for the balance of the team," Ancelotti stated subsequent to the sale of the German playmaker. "It's true, that maybe di Maria has less quality than Ozil but on a profile of dynamism, character and help to the team I preferred di Maria."

Ancelotti's current Madrid side can't emulate Milan's narrow 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2 with the likes of Ronaldo and Bale, and if the aforesaid shuttlers are sold, Madrid - who was outmuscled in central areas against physical sides last season - will lack bite in midfield.

The key to Ancelotti's success overloading central areas with playmakers was down to the work rate of Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, and eventually Massimo Ambrosini.

Without a natural tackler or holding midfielder in the side, Ancelotti heavily relied on di Maria to link midfield and attack with his tireless running, while Modric steered Madrid forward with his passing. And although Khedira was absent for majority of last season, he displayed in Brazil that he remains an ideal runner, while offering grit in midfield.

Asier Illarramendi and Isco - men who struggled to maintain consistent minutes last season - will also be impacted by the Madrid's proactive transfer activity. Isco will likely play a peripheral role, as he failed to adapt to Ancelotti's system - and will fall behind Kroos and James in the no.10 role - while Illarramendi's appearances are expected to decrease significantly, following a difficult debut season.

Madrid couldn't overlook the opportunity to sign a proven winner with European pedigree, but the impulse purchase of Rodriguez could backfire. While it provides Ancelotti with an abundance of depth, it's uncertain as to whether it will bode well with those fighting to crack the starting XI.

Balance remains integral to Ancelotti's footballing philosophy, but Real Madrid's transfer activity will force the Italian's hand once again.