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Incorporating the Stars: The problem of choice at Real Madrid

With the inbound stars adding further glitter to the already existing star studded squad, its a matter of speculation as to how Ancelotti would use the talent at his disposal. To what extent will the Italian change the way Los Blancos line up? Venkatesh W S takes a look.

Ancelotti Incorporating the stars

4-3-3   (4-2-1-3) (4-1-2-3)

This was the formation that Real Madrid used to such devastating effect last season. As the old adage goes, ‘Why do you want to fix something that is not broken?’  But with the arrival of James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos it seems nigh impossible to play the same counter-attacking football of last season. But on deeper analysis a small variation of the 4-3-3 might do Real Madrid some good.

Last season had Alonso sitting in front of the back four and providing defensive cover. As a result Modric and Di Maria were given the freedom to venture forward. But there was more to Modric and Di Maria than just supporting the attack. They actually became the first line of Madrid defense that the opponent had to face. Modric and Di Maria broke down the opposition attacks near the half way line and therefore the transition from facing the opponent to the ball landing at the feet of either one of Bale, Benzema or Ronaldo was quicker than usual.

So where do Rodriguez and Kroos fit in here?

A slight tweak in the formation can accommodate the latest arrivals quite easily. Inverting the central midfield triangle would allow the summer signings to display their flamboyance. The best bet would be operating Rodriguez  as the trequartista and two of Modric/Kroos/Alonso taking up the holding midfield role. This would change the set up from a 4-1-2-3 to a 4-2-1-3. The propensity of the front four to shoot from distance and their ability to run with the ball can make the team unpredictable. As the time ticks along, one could see Di Maria and Isco entering the field to add some fresh legs. They could come in as like for like substitutes for Bale and Rodriguez respectively, in which case Madrid could follow the same set-up or switch to the 4-1-2-3.


The downside of this variant would be the time the opposition would enjoy the ball as there would be no one to nick them off the ball near the half line. Making Modric, Alonso or Kroos to sit too deep would be inviting trouble with open arms as their fouls per game averages at about 1, 1.1 and 1.5 respectively. That would make an average of 2-3 fouls in dangerous positions for the opposition.

But on the attacking front things look brighter than ever. Rodriguez’s key passes per game at 2.5, shots/game at 2.7 and being fouled per game at 2.4 give his colleagues a variety of opportunities to have a look at the goal. They could easily have a threaded through ball, a rebound to have a poke at or a dead ball from around 25-30 yards. Combine this with the 2.1 dribbles per game of Bale and Ronaldo and 3.1, 7.1 and 3 shots per game of Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema respectively. The stats seem to help each other out. Will the players do the same? That’s an answer we’ll have to wait for.



Real Madrid have got some of the best wingers and wing backs in the world and playing a formation that enhances their performance levels and brings the best out of them seems a logically good theory. On the basis of this we can analyze the 4-4-1-1 which could easily become a 4-2-2-1-1. This set-up exclusively utilizes the overlapping of Madrid’s full backs Carvajal, Marcelo and Coentrao and their understanding with Ronaldo and Bale. Marcelo with 1.5 dribbles and 1.7 key passes per game stands out and will be the unlikely lynchpin of this set-up. The left wing that he plays on will have the extra burden on the opposition defender as he has the unenviable task of being up against Bale or Ronaldo in addition. Coentrao and Carvajal make 0.6 & 0.6 and 0.7 & 1 dribbles and key passes per game respectively. That is not a stat that can just be looked over. Also Marcelo is fouled about 1.1 times a game. That brings in Modric/Alonso/Kroos to swing in a vicious cross aimed at the head of Ronaldo/Bale/Ramos/Pepe/Benzema. Rodriguez slotting in behind Benzema will allow him to look for the cut-back and have a go at the goal.

But the 4-4-1-1 set up leaves the Los Blancos very thin in the center of the park. With only two of Alonso/Modric/Kroos/Khedira to man the center, winning the ball off the opposition might be difficult, especially when the opposition plays a three man midfield. This set-up might also burden Rodriguez/Isco, while playing in the hole as they might have to help the central midfielders as well as support the attack. Benzema and Rodriguez do not seem to be very good when it comes to winning aerial duels (Aerial duels won= 0.6 and 0.5 respectively). So the long balls from the wings may either be headed wide or may be won by the opposition central defender.


3-4-2-1 (3-5-2)

The last of the analysis on the single striker set-up will involve the trending 3 man back line made famous by its usage in the World Cup by Van Gaal, Jose Pinto, Jorge Sampaoli & Miguel Herrera. This formation justifies the abundance of creative midfielders and also provides the defensive solidity required. Any one of Ramos/Pepe/Varanne is capable of slotting in at the center with aplomb. Ramos, Pepe and Varane’s pass success percentage of 88.6, 85.8 and 91.3 look impressive and they can easily function as the ball playing center halves so essential for this set-up. They also win aerial duels at 3.8, 2.7 and 1.6 per game respectively. Therefore the hefty center forward should not be a concern. The two central midfield positions could be easily occupied by any of Alonso/Modric/Khedira/Kroos. They can receive the ball and pass it on to either two of Rodriguez/Kroos/Isco. The lone forward mantle could be taken up by Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s aerial ability is not to be debated. He wins 1.6 aerial dues per game. So a cross form the wings could easily end up in the back of the net. Since Ronaldo’s pass completion rate of 81.3% is not up to the mark, his functioning as the target man may add fluidity to the Madrid attack.

But this formation overburdens the wingers, in this case Bale and one of Di Maria and Marcelo. They might have to curb their attacking instincts to help out the defense. It may get worse if the opposition comes out with a one of the wider formations like a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1. Bale with only 0.7 interceptions and 0.9 tackles per game may feel the heat more than anyone else on the field. It will be very difficult for him to track back after one of his lung-bursting runs.

Having seen a variety of single target man formations, things can only get interesting if Madrid bring about another striker on board. With so many formations to play around with, Ancelotti may not be sitting comfortably though many would love to be in his situation .


All stats have been taken from www.whoscored.comHave your idea as to how Real would line up this season? Drop a comment and let us know!

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