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Real Madrid: Carlo Ancelotti Seems To Have Found His Best XI

Carlo Ancelotti

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Appointed as Real Madrid‘s manager this summer after Jose Mourinho‘s departure, Carlo Ancelotti had the difficult task of managing the most successful club in the world. The Italian manager struggled in his first weeks to get the best out of his squad, but since then, Ancelotti seems to have finally found his best XI.

During his career, Ancelotti has used many different systems. The Italian manager has always adapted very well to all the teams he has coached. With the squad at his disposal at Real, he was expected to use  either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Ancelotti has used both systems at multiple occasions, but took time to find his best XI.

After Mourinho’s departure,  there was a question mark about who would be the  No. 1 goalkeeper this season. Surprisingly, the Italian manager decided to keep Diego Lopez between the sticks over Iker Casillas, despite the critics from the Spanish media.

Another area of the field where the Italian had to make difficult decisions was in defense. In central defense, Rafael Varane and Sergio Ramos finished the season under Mourinho, pushing the Portuguese defender Pepe on the bench. Ancelotti has decided to bring Pepe back into the starting 11, pushing Ramos to the right of the defense. The result of that tactical change is that Daniel Carvajal and Alvaro Arbeloa will enjoy less time on the field. Marcelo, who started most of the games under Mourinho, remains the starting left back.

In midfield is really where the selection headache is for Ancelotti. The only sure thing before the season was that Cristiano Ronaldo would be on the left wing as usual. Since his arrival, Gareth Bale has logically been occupying the right wing. Xabi Alonso‘s return from injury has given Ancelotti more tactical flexibility. The Spanish international was associated with Luka Modric and Sami Khedira in a 4-3-3 in Real’s convincing Champion’s League performance against Juventus. The advantage of having Modric, Khedira and Alonso in midfield is that Real can switch anytime between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3  (that system would allow Bale and Ronaldo more freedom) without changing players.

Another consequence of Alonso’s return is that Isco, brilliant for the first few games, has found himself on the bench very often lately . The Spanish playmaker is now in direct competition with Modric since the latter has been pushed into a more advanced position due to Alonso’s return. Asier Illaramendi, signed from Real Sociedad in the summer transfer window, is a similar player to Alonso in some aspects, but hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations yet.

Upfront, Karim Benzema remains Real’s striker. The Frenchman had a poor start of the season, but has produced some encouraging performances the last few games. The youngsters, Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez, seem to be too young and inexperienced to push Benzema on the bench.

The abundance of talent at Real Madrid has made it very difficult for Ancelotti to pick the right system and the best players. With such a talented squad, Ancelotti will surely be forced to rotate players to keep everyone happy, but for big games, the Italian manager needs to clearly identify his best XI.