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Marcelo's form a key cog in Real Madrid's success

Real Madrid's Brazilian full-back came in for criticism from his national coach earlier this season but his club form has never been better.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

While Carlo Ancelotti's reference to Marcelo as being the best full-back in the world may have been a defensive tool to counter criticism from Brazil's national coach Dunga, the 26-year-old's form this season has arguably been his best in a Madrid shirt.

His stunning goal in Madrid's 2-0 Champions League victory over Schalke last week, with his right foot, was the icing on the cake of what has been an impressive campaign from the flying full-back so far. The embrace that followed between the player and his coach on the touchline was a sign that Marcelo is enjoying life playing under the Italian.

It's taken a while for him to get the utmost confidence from his manager. Last season, Fabio Coentrao was handed more minutes as Ancelotti weighed-up his strongest option at left-back. Marcelo may have been an exciting player in creating chances and getting forward but there were still defensive duties to be had and the Portuguese seemed to be the man for those occasions.

This season there has been little question over who is Madrid's left-back of choice. Marcelo may have endured a below-par World Cup with Brazil last summer but that has not impacted on his club form. If anything, as with Iker Casillas, it has made him stronger this term.

The criticism that came his way from his national coach was owing to his attacking nature in the World Cup and the gaps that he left at the back as a result. "How many times did Marcelo go on the attack in the World Cup? Twenty times," he told Brazilian newspaper O Globo. "How many goals did he score or create? None."

The statistics may not lie but they don't lie this season, either. Getting forward is part of Marcelo's nature and he has contributed six assists in La Liga this season. That's more than players such as team-mate Gareth Bale, Ivan Rakitic, Neymar, Xavi and Arda Turan. Two more have come in the Champions League, as many as any of his team-mates. Madrid have been freescoring this season and Marcelo has been a key cog in that goal machine.

His attacking qualities along the left flank have rarely been in question but his defensive abilities, or his lack of presence in defence after those trademark marauding runs, have. In the past his surges forward have left a gap for the opposition to exploit on the counter-attack but Madrid have now found a system to solve that problem. They have found a system to suit the Brazilian.

Ancelotti has not put the brakes on a player who is one of his key attacking outlets. Instead, he has ensured those gaps at the back are covered when the 26-year-old races down the pitch as fast as the Renfe train advertisement on the electronic boards alongside him.

The Italian speaks frequently about attacking as a team and defending as a team and players such as Toni Kroos and Isco have plugged the gap left by the Brazilian until he trots back into position. The latter in particular has been crucial in helping Marcelo out on the left. Isco's game has become more rounded this season with a defensive head added to his attacking beauty and his link-up play with the left-back has been crucial in Marcelo's success.

There have still been some errors. There have been some loose passes, some poor positional play and a lack of awareness at times but these errors, mostly, have been nipped in the bud thanks to his own personal improvement and the improvement of the team around him.

In attack, Marcelo has forged strong links with Cristiano Ronaldo, the man who usually occupies the space ahead of him on the left, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez. Only a few weeks ago the Brazilian put two carbon-copy goals on a plate for his fellow South American to head home in back-to-back games. The crosses were pin-point, gifts.

Some still forget that Marcelo is still only 26 yet he racked up his 300th appearance for the club in the 2-1 victory over Sevilla, a victory that saw him collect a yellow card that ruled him out of the following match at Atletico Madrid - and we all know how that went. He joined Madrid when he was 18 and is closing on his ninth year at the club.

He has since moved on to 303 appearances and just four more will see him surpass German Uli Stielike to move second on the list of appearances by foreign players for the club. The only other man to stand ahead of him is Madrid legend and fellow countryman Robert Carlos, who made 527 appearances. Marcelo may be a way off that number but he is well positioned to surpass it in the future and put his name alongside another great Brazilian left-back in the Madrid history books.

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