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Real Madrid Tactical Preview: How will Carlo Ancelotti’s side set up in the 2014-15 season?

As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. This one focuses on European champions, Real Madrid. Nachiketh Ramesh takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential key young players of the 2014/15 season.

Real Madrid, under Carlo Ancelotti, achieved the “La Decima” last year. Ancelotti has made three additions to the squad by signing German midfielder Toni Kroos, Costa Rican shot stopper Keylor Navas and James Rodriguez, the Colombian attacking midfielder. Seeing these three World Cup stars in the famous White Shirts of Real Madrid has made every Madridista dream about the 11th Champions League title. This squad, on paper, looks stronger than its fierce rival FC Barcelona and city rival Atletico Madrid. However, it will be interesting to see how Ancelotti will fit all these stars into his squad.


Formation | How will they set-up?

Carlo Ancelotti is a master tactician. During his spell as Milan’s manager, in the absence of natural wingers, Ancelotti deployed the “Christmas Tree” formation and was very successful – Milan reached three Champions League finals in five years.

However, in Madrid, the Italian has excellent wingers at his service. Therefore, to take full advantage of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s ability, Ancelotti might adopt a 4-2-3-1 system with World Cup Golden Boot winner Rodriguez in between these two. Kroos and Luka Modric at the center.

Real Madrid Tactics 2

Made using Tactical Pad


There are two other possibilities. A 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 system.

4-3-3 formation with the front line consisting of B-B-C, followed by an inverted midfield triangle formed by Rodriguez, Modric and Kroos.

Real Madrid Tactics 1


Third case is a 4-4-2 system in which Ronaldo plays as the second striker to Benzema. This looks similar to 4-2-2-2 system adopted by PSG.

Real Madrid Tactics 3


Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?

There are two things in common in the above-mentioned systems –

1. The back four remains unchanged except for the left back position. Marcelo or Fabio Coentrao, is the big question? Marcelo is a more attacking option compared to Coentrao. In the recently concluded World Cup, the Germans completely exposed Marcelo. His positioning seems to be very awkward. This might provoke Ancelotti to select Coentrao ahead of the Brazilian.

2. Kroos is the pivot of the team. If Kroos plays well, then the entire team performs well. Kroos will be doing just what Xabi Alonso did last season – spreading the passes to every nook and corner of the pitch and dictating from the back.

Attack: Real Madrid’s forward line is probably the best in Europe’s Top 5 leagues. Considering the fact that his players are great sprinters, Ancelotti will build his team on the counter attacking philosophy that worked out very well last season.

When playing against weaker teams expect Real Madrid to start with 4-2-3-1 formation. Rodriguez then gradually drops into the midfield to play alongside Modric, which changes the system to 4-3-3.

With Ronaldo and Bale joining the midfielders during defending, Real will pack the midfield region.

When up against teams of same caliber Ancelotti prefers 4-4-2, which is a reactive formation. Ronaldo will be the one running freely in the opposition’s region between the defensive and midfield lines. Bale on the right will always be looking to cut inside into the box and it will be Ronaldo’s duty to create space for Bale. On the other hand, Rodriguez, who is very comfortable playing on the left flank, will run wide with the ball and cross.

Alternatives: In absence of Benzema and Jese Rodriguez, Ronaldo might start as the striker followed by Rodriguez, Isco and Bale. Isco can also play as “False 9”.

Midfield: Modric will play as the box-to-box midfielder. Kroos will hold onto a bit deeper position. In 4-3-3, Rodriguez also joins these two.

When playing 4-4-2, the midfield line consisting of Rodriguez, Kroos, Modric and Bale will drop deep and stay close to the defensive line. This reduces the pressure on the defenders and the goalkeeper. A similar tactic might be used when sporting a 4-3-3 formation.

Modric will be more active in the midfield – disturbing the midfield set-up of the opposition, overlapping with Bale and pressing the opposition midfielders. Modric offers power whereas Kroos will provide precision to Real’s midfield.


Modric on the overlap

Defense: As explained earlier, Ancelotti will have make up his mind over who will play at LB. Considering the fact that it is Rodriguez or Ronaldo paying on the left flank, Ancelotti might select Coentrao in  a 4-4-2 formation. In 4-3-3, Marcelo’s forward runs and overlapping with the winger will be crucial.

Ramos and Pepe will play at the heart of Real’s defense. Carvajal has cemented his position as first choice RB. When Bale cuts inside, expect Carvajal to be involved in midfield.

Real Madrid’s defense is not as good as its attack. Real conceded 48 goals last season. This may be due to lack of co-ordination between the defenders. Most of the times, Real were caught on the break. They need to work on quick transition from attack to defense. Else, this problem will persist even this season. Another reason, not a matter of concern to many people, is the average height of Real’s center backs – a mere 1.85m. Compared to other teams in Europe, this is quite low (for example, FC Barcelona’s is 1.92m, Munich’s is 1.9m and Juventus’ is 1.87m).

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas will probably be relegated to bench this season. Navas, whose performance was highly contrasting to that of Casillas’ at the World Cup, will undoubtedly be the first choice. Additionally, Navas can play with a high defensive line.

Set pieces: Real Madrid scored 33 times from set pieces last season (9 corners, 8 crosses, 8 free kicks and 8 penalties) and only Liverpool, Dortmund, Manchester City, PSG and Sevilla scored more times than Real from these situations.

The main reason for this is the presence of strong men like Benzema, Ronaldo, Bale, Pepe and Ramos inside the box. Ronaldo and Bale are among the best free-kick takers in the world. We saw Ramos volunteering to take free kicks in the absence of these two. Expect the same from Real Madrid this season.

Pressing and Closing down: Bale, Ronaldo, Rodriguez and Benzema have all the running to do while counter attacking. This leaves Kroos and Modric in the middle with the duty of pressing the opposition. Kroos is already accustomed to this (Germany pressed all over the pitch in World Cup).

Bale, Benzema and Rodriguez will assist Kroos and Modric in closing down the opposition.


Bale, Benzema, Rodriguez will assist in the closing down

At the back, either of Ramos or Pepe will step up and press the oncoming opposition player.

On of Ramos or Pepe

One of Ramos or Pepe will step up.

Unpredictability: Real Madrid is one complicated team and the fact that Ancelotti uses 2 to 3 formations in a match makes it even more difficult for the opposition to predict Real’s moves.

To add to this, the wingers keep swapping. In 4-2-3-1 system, Ronaldo and Rodriguez keep changing their positions. Leave them unmarked and you are bound to be punished. Mark them tightly, their runs will open spaces for other players.

Substitutes: Angel di Maria’s Real Madrid career looks like it’s coming to an end. However, if he stays at Madrid, then Ancelotti can bring him on as a substitute for Bale. He can also play for Modric in the center of the field. Di Maria and Alonso can form second choice midfielders for Real.

Jese Rodriguez, Raphael Varane, Alvaro Arbeloa, Isco, Casillas, Alonso on the bench along with di Maria will be a strong back up.

Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?

Cristiano Ronaldo is according to me, not only a World-class player but also a great motivator. His presence on the touchline during last season’s UCL match against Dortmund was enough for his teammates to hang on to a single goal lead and reach the semi-finals.

His goal scoring record is superb – he lead the La Liga and UCL goal scoring charts last season. He has scored more than 1 goal per game for Real Madrid. He is the main reason behind Real’s latest success.

He is very quick down both the flanks. Ronaldo’s step overs and quick feet always pose a problem to the opposition fullbacks.

Just as Bale and Modric combine on the right side of the pitch, Ronaldo and Rodriguez will combine on the left. While Rodriguez likes to play it wide, Ronaldo either can cut in to receive low crosses or can stay just outside the 18-yard box to pounce on rebounds.

Ronaldo’s versatility offers more options for Ancelotti while making tactical changes.

Talent Radar | Who will be the key young player this season?

Jese Rodriguez: Jese usually plays as a center forward but can also play as a wide attacking midfielder. He was given his Real Madrid debut last season and has so far scored 5 goals from 19 appearances.

He has great balance in addition to impressive pace and can finish neatly even under pressure – he reduced Barcelona’s lead to one goal by scoring a late consolation goal for Real in the first El Clasico of last season. Jese can shoot with both feet. Keep your eyes fixed on him this season.

Raphael Varane: Jose Mourinho gave this French prodigy his first team debut in the 2012-2013 season. He lived up to Jose’s expectations and drew interests from top clubs of England. Tackling is his one big weakness. Varane likes to clear the ball to safety and does not take risks.

He was under the shadow of Pepe last season and managed to play only 15 full games. France manager, Didier Deschamps played Varane ahead of experienced Laurent Koscielny at the World Cup, a seal of approval if there ever was one.

Written by Nachiketh Ramesh. 

You can read all our 2014/15 Tactical Previews here.

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