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Ancelotti's Real Madrid struggle against quality opposition, why?

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Why have Real Madrid had a hard time of it against top teams under Carlo's tenure?

Reaching for inspiration.
Reaching for inspiration.
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Recently some have begun to question - rightly or wrongly - Ancelotti's managerial ability against good opposition and whilst it is true that under Ancelotti the Real Madrid team won the Champions League and the Copa del Rey it is also equally true that in all the other major competitions they've participated in Los Blancos have been disappointing against those stronger teams.

For example, last season in La Liga, Real Madrid lost the Derbi at home to Atlético Madrid and drew in the return fixture, lost both Clásico's, lost away to Sevilla, drew away to Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao and then also drew at home against Valencia. So patently although the team won the vast majority of the games you'd expect them to win they also disappointed in quite a large way when asked to raise their level of football. Ancelotti got quite a few tactical decisions completely wrong. Playing Sergio Ramos as a defensive midfielder in the first Clásico is an example.

Furthermore if we fast forward to this season, thus far the results have not improved against those difficult opponents. Obviously it goes without saying that these teams that I'm highlighting aren't easy to beat but that should not be an excuse for some of the insipid performances and lack of effort that the home fans were treated to at the Bernabéu in the 0-4 humiliation at the hands of local rivals Atlético Madrid.

That match aside this Real Madrid squad has also drawn twice and lost thrice to Atlético Madrid in all the other matches contested between them this season. Once again Villarreal proved too difficult to gain the three points from and so Madrid  recently had to settle for a draw with the yellow submarine whilst they were also defeated at the Mestalla at the hands of Valencia.

Clearly something or some things need to be changed tactically for when Real Madrid face these more illustrious football clubs. But what? That's the question Mr Ancelotti needs to ask of himself and the rest of the coaching staff in Chamartín. I'm no football manager but I can offer some suggestions as to how the team could set itself up to avoid failing in the same way as they have been.

For instance, I strongly believe that playing in a 4-4-2 formation is far more conducive to winning games against the better teams as opposed to the variant of the 4-3-3 that Ancelotti has set up the team to play primarily. Madrid fans saw how effective the 4-4-2 was last season in the Champions League against Bayern Munich and then again in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. The 4-4-2 is especially adept at making it difficult for more possession orientated teams to break down the defence as the two lines of four players keep the spaces tight and constrictive for the oppositions forwards to work with.

The 4-3-3 formation certainly isn't without its own merits however as it allows the team to attack with more freedom and options and is better for breaking down packed defences, especially with players running in behind the defence though the centre of the pitch as it is more narrow. So for the weaker teams who like to play for a draw or sit back and attempt to absorb pressure the 4-3-3 formation is the more suitable one to use. I believe that if Ancelotti can implement the right formations depending on the opponents then Los Blancos will have a better chance of getting a good result.

Atlético Madrid are a very different conundrum and probably the hardest one Ancelotti has to solve. They are the Kryptonite to this current Real Madrid squad. I think the best way to beat Atléti is to fight fire with fire because as has been evidenced, the patient possession based approach has not been able to bring Real Madrid the success they desire. By "fight fire with fire" I mean to condense the midfield with five players and to adopt a physical approach. That would entail playing with a double pivot in defensive midfield similar to the system Real Madrid operated in under Jose Mourinho.

This would provide the opportunity to counter quickly against Atléti which is something they have not been used to for a while. Instead, it has been they who have been utilising counter-attacks against Real. If we look at last seasons Champions League final it was the pace and counter-attacks at the dying stages of the match which proved to be the difference. Picture Ángel di María and Marcelo running at the Rojiblancos defence, tearing them apart. Madrid seem to have lost that killer instinct this season and a large part of that is down to the way the team is set up to play.

One last suggestion is motivation. Ancelotti must be able to adequately motivate his players for the big occasions. It could well be that the squad is suffering a sophomore slump this year after being so successful last year. Perhaps after winning four trophies last year complacency has set in. One would certainly hope not but at the same time it's hard not to see the lack of hunger and desire that some of the players have exhibited in some outings against the big teams. Therefore Ancelotti has a job to do in regards to firing up his players to perform on the big stage. If the motivational skills of Diego Simeone or Mourinho were mixed with the quality Real Madrid already have in their ranks surely it would form a team capable of building a dynasty.

Those are just a few thoughts on how Ancelotti could improve against quality opposition. Whether he'll implement any of those thoughts is yet to be seen. In the meantime, we know one thing for sure. Real Madrid will not continue to accept the poor performances put out recently. In a day and age where results are everything and job security is unreliable it is surely something that will be playing on Carlo's mind.