Taking over from Jose Mourinho is never an easy job. When he left Chelsea, there were tears. One can imagine a few were also shed at Inter, whom he led to Champions League and Serie A success in his final term. When the Portuguese departed Real Madrid last summer, again he left his successor with a tough job – but for wholly different reasons.
Mourinho’s final year at Madrid was nothing short of a disaster, both on and off the field. There was in-fighting in the dressing room that boiled over and became part of the media frenzy that engulfed the club. Performances suffered as a result and so it came as no surprise that the 2012-13 season ended without a single trophy. Mourinho certainly left a fine mess.
Even the most optimistic of supporters would have thought that the new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, would need some time to settle into his post. After all, there was lots of work to do. He had to sort out the goalkeeping issue that Mourinho created when he decided to drop club captain Iker Casillas. He had to reunite a divided dressing room. There was also the added burden, or demand, that Carlo had to get Real Madrid playing attractive football again following on from Mourinho’s reactive and defensively-minded approach was not popular in the capital. To top it all off, Ancelotti had to prove a success and sooner rather than later. This is, after all, Real Madrid.
Ancelotti’s reign did not have the greatest start. His side fell well behind leaders Barcelona, whom they lost to in the first Clasico of the season. Some considered the loss at Camp Nou a decisive blow in the race for the title, even the end of the race perhaps. But, fast forward to now and how the situation has changed – and for the better if you are of a white persuasion.
Over the weekend Ancelotti guided his side to a comfortable win over Elche. Madrid’s promising stars, Asier Illarramendi and Isco got a goal each either side of a bullet of a strike from Gareth Bale. One hardly noticed the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, or Luka Modric who has become a key man at Casa Blanca. It was another fine display, one full of attacking intent and attractive football. It is the kind of football the Bernabeu crowd have long been yearning for. They are now getting it and it is getting the results too.
In the space of eight months, Ancelotti has completely transformed Madrid. The dressing-room is again united, even though Casillas remains on the bench. The captain has accepted his new role in the side gracefully and for this the former Milan boss deserves much of the credit. Ancelotti has also built a real team. They no longer just rely on the goal-scoring ability of Ronaldo. Bale, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and Jese have all been contributing goals. And goals have been coming by the bucketload. It took the Italian just 38 games in all competitions to see his side score 100 goals – a feat not achieved since 1959.
While Madrid romped to victory, Barcelona were “thrashed” – as AS put it on Sunday morning – at the Anoeta by Real Sociedad. Tata Martino’s tinkering with the side – he left Xavi on the bench the whole game, for example – backfired somewhat and now the knives are really out and they are all pointing at the Argentine. Worst of all for the Catalans however, is that they now find themselves three points behind their hated-rivals. Atletico Madrid are in a similar boat, one that seems to be headed south.
Atletico have now lost two of their last four games in La Liga. Make that four from their last six in all competitions. Diego Simeone’s men, like those of his compatriot, also find themselves three points off the pace. After 63 match-days, Real Madrid are again the sole-leaders in La Liga. Not since May 2012 have they occupied this position. In what is one of the most exciting races for La Liga in recent years, it is advantage Real Madrid.