It doesn't seem like two minutes since we were wondering whether people would recover from injuries in time for the Atletico derby. Now here we are almost a week further on and so much has happened. The defeat at Atletico started things off and then the whole situation took a turn for the worse; with reports in the press going into great detail about the visit of Florentino Perez to the training ground, the injury situation, and several off-the-field matters that couldn't fail to make the headlines after such an emphatic loss.
The important thing now is to sit down and take stock. The past few days will have allowed Carlo Ancelloti time to analyse recent events and plan the way forward. It's going to be essential not to jump in and make any knee jerk reactions to the Atletico defeat without proper thought; and in that sense, Ancelloti will be too analytical to be caught out. This is where an experienced manager comes in.
The main issue to address at the moment is how to get the playing side back on track without undoing any of the good work that led to recent successes. That may include a tactical review, a change in playing personnel, or even sticking with the majority of the team who finished the match at the Calderon with the obvious exception of those injured in the defeat. In situations like these, everyone looks to the manager for solutions; and the response from the manager then sets the tone for the way forward. Managers can either distance themselves from the players, defend them, or bring them back to reality. The reality for Real Madrid is that they are the league leaders, European champions, and World Club Cup winners who have dropped a few points in recent weeks.
For the first few days after the Atletico game, there was a period where nothing seemed to emanate from the Bernabeu apart from negative reports (true or otherwise). Sami Khedira had played his last game for the club, Cristiano didn't please a lot of people by having a pre-arranged birthday party on the night of the defeat, Iker snapped at reporters who criticised him, the President wasn't impressed and would be speaking to the players (and staff) about the downturn in form and the weekend's defeat. It got worse as the week went on with reports that Luka Modric is now unlikely to make his comeback in February after all; and that Fabio Coentrao was injured in training on Wednesday. It would take an experienced manager to deal with any of those at any level of club management never mind at the very top.
Suffice it to say, therefore, that anyone in the position of Real Madrid manager / head coach is not only expected to take all those things in his stride, but to deal with them in a way that quickly resolves the issues. In other words, Real Madrid don't simply want Carlo Ancelotti to deliver, they expect him to deliver. The reality of this will not be lost on the Italian coach who is able to conceal his emotions, likely the result of years of practice, as he sits back and takes stock of the situation at a club where success is demanded and off-the-field impressions matter a lot.
Ancelotti's way of dealing with these issues may not please everyone but his role is to make positives from a situation filled with negatives. The first thing he will have done in the early part of the week will have been to sit down with his staff and analyse what negative aspects of the last week he is in a position to influence or change. In the cold light of dawn there is no point in trying to influence what is impossible to change.
To begin with, the Atletico result cannot be changed. Real lost and that is the end of the matter in terms of the score. However, Ancelotti will have been looking at the manner in which the game was lost, and how to ensure no repitition arises in the coming weeks. With regards to personnel changes, he will only be in a position to partially influence these, since the injury situation precludes him from selecting certain players such as Sergio Ramos and James Rodriguez. With Fabio Coentrao also injured and doubtful at the moment for the forthcoming Deportivo match, options for team selection are limited and the choices Ancelotti makes with regards to who plays this weekend may not necessarily be his first choice.
Having said that, Ancelotti is in a position to influence who does play against Deportivo from those who are fully fit and available. Iker's comments after the game didn't go down too well with a section of the support when the first goal was mentioned and this was seized upon by the press. Whether Kaylor Navas starts in goal or not at the weekend is clearly a decision that the head coach can make; but we will need to wait and see what he does. Likewise, the choice of outfield players and whether to drop, rotate or replace will be a hard-headed footballing decision made without sentiment to neither please, appease or pander to the opinions of anyone not directly involved with team matters. The manager will make some cold decisions over the next 48 hours, and he may well appear to be isolated for a while until the reasons behind those decisions become clear. Similarly, he will be able to influence whether Sami Khedira does return to first team action but is likely to leave that decision until the German midfielder returns to full fitness. Additionally, with regards to Luka Modric's decision to seek further medical advice, any return to play decision can only be made once full fitness has been regained.
It is true that the coach may have been able to influence Cristiano's decision to party; although on reflection it remains unclear for certain whether he would have intervened or not. If Real had won, the headlines would have screamed ‘Ronaldo leads celebrations as Madrid party after derby win!" As former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane said recently about a similar situation involving players going out after a game, "these are all young lads; are they going to just go home and watch the television?" An episode not necessarily gaining the approval of Florentino Perez, Ancelotti would not have been able to influence the president's decision to visit the training complex to speak after the defeat. However, Perez is well enough respected among the players and staff for them to listen to any comments he had to make; and when all is said and done the president wouldn't just have gone to Valdebebas to have a highly-publicised moan. Although it may have seemed that way to non-Madridistas, there will have been genuine words of support also spoken.
In order to compensate for the events of last weekend then, strong actions are called upon from the management. This doesn't mean that good players should now be treated as bad and hopefully this will be reflected in Ancelotti's decision-making over the things which he is able to exert an influence upon.
He cannot turn back the clock nor reverse the result at the Calderon, stop the party, or magically find a cure for Ramos and Rodriguez' injuries. Ancelotti can, however, influence those selected for the game against Deportivo by emphasising that they have not become bad players overnight and challenge them to prove this to a watching world who perhaps secretly hope that they have. From the privacy of the dressing room he will be able to influence the mood of the team as they prepare during that vital hour before kick-off, dispelling any doubts they may have about themselves, instilling positive thoughts, stressing the seriousness of the game ahead and most importantly, demanding a performance worthy of winning the game. As we said earlier, this is where an experienced manager comes in.