Ancelotti’s tactical nous eclipses Pep’s stubborn philosophy
When Carlo Ancelotti studied for his coaching qualifications at the Coverciano training center in Florence, the thesis he submitted was entitled: ‘The future of football. More
After Bayern Munich’s 0-4 drubbing at the hands of Real Madrid on Tuesday night, it’s safe to say Pep Guardiola was given a first-hand lesson.
The second leg defeat in the Champions League semi-finals see the defending champions crash out 5-0 on aggregate. Ironically, the margin of defeat bears an uncanny
resemblance to the 7-0 punishment they served Barcelona last year who played the same possession-based football they now abide by.
The fantastic feature of Bayern last season was that they struck the perfect balance between possession and directness, however the scale has tipped enormously
towards the former since Guardiola’s arrival. In truth, if you had to guess what the Spaniard’s thesis was entitled, the inclusion of the word ‘possession’ would probably be
a pretty safe bet.
Let’s give Pep the credit he’s due though. His tiki-taka brand of football revolutionized the game and saw Barcelona embark on their most successful era during which they
were near invincible. He’s implemented the same philosophy remarkably quickly at Bayern, winning the league in record time and is also in the German Cup final – quite a
stunning debut season in truth.
However, Ancelotti is simply cut from a different cloth. His craving for ‘dynamic’ football leads him to explore various facets of footballing tactics. His goal remains the same
but he recognizes the different routes to get him there and embraces various systems.
In his early managerial career he impressed with a 4-4-2 system at Parma and then at Juventus he deployed a 3-4-1-2 formation in order to use Zinedine Zidane behind
Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi.
At AC Milan he enjoyed great success with the ‘diamond midfield’ that engineered the re-emergence of the deep lying playmaker or ‘regista’, a role Andrea Pirlo eventually
flourished in. He then shifted to a 4-3-3 as Chelsea boss and finally, after a lot of tinkering, seemed to settle on a 4-3-2-1 system at Paris Saint-Germain.
At Madrid, his dynamic 4-3-3 system makes the most of the qualities of his players. The pace, energy and penetration they provide has set them apart over the last few
In the first leg against Bayern itself, he set his side up perfectly in a 4-4-2 and they could have scored more than the one goal if they made the most of their chances. With a
full-strength squad on show at the Allianz Arena for the return fixture, they quickly rectified that by plundering four.
Jose Moruinho is consistently hailed a ‘tactical genius’, most recently after Chelsea’s win over Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. One could argue that Ancelotti’s tactical
masterclass in Munich warrants the same sort of praise if not more.
Madrid didn’t exactly ‘park the bus’, they were always set up for the counter-attack, ready to break in an instant, eagerly waiting to pinch the ball off Bayern instead of
standing idle, content with denying the Germans.
Furthermore, there were no real time-wasting tactics employed despite holding the advantage and they pressed their opponents at the right time, twice leading to hasty
clearances from Manuel Neuer which nearly proved costly.
Their system was almost a 4-4-2 without the ball at times with Gareth Bale dropping back into a flat midfield four while Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema remained in
advanced positions, moving into space so as to set off on runs as soon as possession turned over.
Bayern on the other hand were exactly the same as in the first leg despite the several warnings they were issued at the Bernabeu. The only difference was in personnel as
Philippe Lahm reverted to his right-back role in place of Rafinha with Toni Kroos dropping into central midfield and Thomas Muller operating behind the striker.
The away goals rule was always going to make things difficult for Bayern on the night but Guardiola was stubborn with his tactics and failed to offer any notable alterations
in order to breach Madrid’s defense.
At the very least, he could have neutralized their counter-attacking threat by leaving an extra man behind to shield his center-backs once they were 2-0 down in order to
spare his side a spanking. But an uncompromising idealist wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t sacrifice his principles for the world.
On his arrival at Madrid last summer, Ancelotti said he wanted a team ‘that has a nice idea of attacking football, that has good balance.’ Well put Carlo, balance is crucial
and the sooner Guardiola accepts that, the better for Bayern.
As for Madrid, the Holy Grail of club football beckons once more and in this sort of form, with these players and particularly this manager, the La Decima dream may finally,
at long last, become a reality