• Vie. Jul 12th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional


On the face of it, Real Madrid’s record-extending 36th La Liga title might seem a simple story.

Having been defeated only once over the league season, and with the title now sewn up with four matches to play, appearances would suggest Carlo Ancelotti’s side have not been stretched.

Jude Bellingham’s debut season has been a stellar success. They have beaten their Clasico rivals Barcelona three times out of three — including to win the Supercopa de Espana. On Wednesday, they play Bayern Munich with a good chance of reaching the Champions League final. Kylian Mbappe looks set to join and excitement is continuing to grow over their next young Brazilian star, Endrick.

But just 12 months ago, the outlook was quite different. Ancelotti was under pressure, Barca had waltzed to the league title, and Manchester City had humbled them on the European stage.

So what has changed? What have been the key moments and themes behind Madrid’s La Liga success?

The Athletic’s Dermot Corrigan, Tomas Hill Lopez-Menchero, Mario Cortegana and Guillermo Rai explain.


Follow La Liga on The Athletic


Rolling with the punches

Madrid’s season started in the worst possible way — with an injury crisis that threatened to seriously dent the campaign before it had even truly begun.

Two days before their opening La Liga fixture at Athletic Bilbao, first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was ruled out with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) damage that required surgery. Then Eder Militao, arguably Madrid’s best centre-back, limped off with his own ACL injury in the match at San Mames.

Madrid acted decisively to replace Courtois, hijacking Bayern Munich’s move for Kepa Arrizabalaga to sign the Spaniard on loan from Chelsea. Arrizabalaga eventually lost his place as first choice after a series of unconvincing performances — but that allowed Andriy Lunin to take full advantage.

The Ukrainian has spent several seasons on the fringes at Madrid. With key displays this term — including Champions League penalty shootout heroics against Manchester City — he has seized his chance.

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Lunin, 25, is not the only figure to have shined in challenging circumstances. Antonio Rudiger’s stock has risen dramatically over a season in which he established himself as a real leader at the back, especially after fellow defender David Alaba also tore his ACL in December and Madrid did not sign a backup.


Lunin is mobbed by team-mates at Man City (Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Ancelotti instead relied on club captain Nacho, as well as midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni when needed. On February 10, Madrid hosted impressive high-flying Girona, who had led La Liga for several matchdays but were then second in the table. With Rudiger out with a hamstring problem, Ancelotti’s back line featured Lucas Vazquez at right-back, Dani Carvajal and Tchouameni as the centre-backs and only Ferland Mendy in his natural position at left-back. They won 4-0.

The squad’s versatility, strength in depth and focus have contributed a great deal to this La Liga title. So has Ancelotti’s inventiveness and ability to adapt.

That was evident in his reaction to the crisis sparked by a 3-1 defeat by Atletico Madrid in September that emphatically spoiled his side’s five-match winning start. It informed his decision to adapt his new tactical system towards a ‘box midfield’ in which Federico Valverde and the free-scoring Jude Bellingham would provide more cover for their full-backs in defence.

The system has proved highly effective. So far, Madrid have conceded just 22 goals in 34 games this season at a rate of 0.65 per game — they are on track to register their best defensive record since their La Liga-winning campaign of 2019-20 (25 goals conceded). They have not been beaten since that Atletico trip, 28 matches ago.

Not bad for a manager many considered past his best when he re-joined from Everton three years ago.

Carlo and company

Even allowing for Bellingham’s tremendous early season, Ancelotti has been the key individual to this Madrid title win, and he has achieved a position of influence and strength unique in either of Florentino Perez’s two spells as club president.

This seemed especially unlikely 12 months ago, after Madrid were thrashed 4-0 by Pep Guardiola’s City in their decisive Champions League semi-final second leg and Xavi’s Barcelona won La Liga easily. Ancelotti’s side did pick up the 2023 Copa del Rey, but similar circumstances have seen many previous Madrid coaches sacked.

Ancelotti had an easy escape route — Brazil wanted him as their next national coach. Rodrygo, Militao, and Vinicius Junior backed him as their next international manager. Then-Brazilian FA president Ednaldo Rodrigues even publicly suggested it was a done deal.

That meant fevered speculation over Ancelotti’s future after September’s La Liga loss at Atletico Madrid. Even after October’s 2-1 Clasico win at Barcelona, Ancelotti kept getting asked about Brazil but his Plan A was always to remain at Madrid.


Carlo and Davide Ancelotti on the Madrid bench (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

“I’m very proud to be linked with one of the best international teams in the world,” he said in November. “But I have a contract (at Madrid) until 30 June.”

Perez is not used to a coach having such strong bargaining power. The Bernabeu hierarchy considered other possibilities, including Xabi Alonso, but eventually, there was an acceptance that Ancelotti remained the best option. In December, Perez offered an extension to 2026 and Ancelotti accepted.

While Ancelotti has demonstrated impressive people skills across his managerial career, his tactical and technical qualities are often underestimated (more on that coming soon from The Athletic).

But the 64-year-old’s coaching staff have all played key roles in this La Liga victory, too. The main figures are his son and assistant coach Davide Ancelotti, technical analyst Francesco Mauri, physical trainer Antonio Pintus and goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis.

Davide Ancelotti, 34, and Mauri, 35, are younger than Luka Modric, who turned 38 in September, but they already have a lot of experience, as well as knowledge of the latest ideas in tactics and physical preparation. “Carlo is not dogmatic, a coach who only plays in one way,” says a source who knows both Ancelottis well. Like others quoted in this piece, the source spoke to The Athletic anonymously to protect relationships. “Carlo analyses the paths football is taking and tries to evolve, always.”

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In January, The Athletic reported on Madrid having the best record defending set-pieces across Europe’s top five leagues while also scoring crucial headed goals themselves through the season — with Mauri’s role crucial in devising routines and honing them at training.

Ancelotti and his staff have kept the focus strong through the season, and sources on the coaching team speak with pride of being the only team to have won at difficult away grounds including Athletic Bilbao and Girona this season.

Last weekend’s trip to Real Sociedad serves as an example of that focus. In other years, a looming Champions League semi-final first leg at Bayern Munich would have distracted the big stars, while squad players who felt marginalised and disliked their coach would have lacked motivation. Ancelotti heavily rotated his team at Anoeta, and they still dug out a gritty 1-0 win, with the rarely used Arda Guler scoring his first La Liga goal.

It brought them within touching distance of the title.

Inside the dressing room

The Real Madrid dressing room is described by multiple sources at Valdebebas as “very healthy”. Some even say it’s the best they’ve ever seen.

That may sound like the club wanting to put out a positive spin, but the same sources acknowledge how tense the atmosphere has been in previous years. Dressing rooms of the past were defined by big stars being upset with their playing time and sources say that mood did, at times, affect the quality of training.

Much of the responsibility for all this positivity lies with Ancelotti, a great coach who has an even better reputation for managing egos.

But again, it is not just his doing. Davide Ancelotti is highlighted by members of the club and, above all, the players, as an increasingly important pillar in this project. His youth and command of languages have helped him connect with the group. His voice tends to dominate training sessions, with Carlo in the background and intervening only occasionally.


Madrid celebrate a Bellingham goal at Napoli (Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

Carlo Ancelotti and his coaching staff came up with a new idea for this season. To generate greater cohesion, players took turns addressing the squad in the dressing room during pre-match preparations.

There is a good understanding between the players. Despite the age differences, the veterans have a close relationship with the youngsters, whom they see as willing to listen and learn, despite most of them already making positive impacts at crucial times.

Good synergies have been formed off the pitch between Madrid’s next generation. It is common for Vinicius Jr, Bellingham, Rodrygo, Militao, Brahim Diaz, Eduardo Camavinga or Tchouameni to make social plans. This has even included weekend trips, and Vinicius Jr and Camavinga spent Christmas together.

Last week, there was a barbecue at Guler’s house, attended by Brahim, Valverde and some members of the fitness team. The good dynamic is there to see in comments on players’ social networks, with their many jokes and nicknames: Camavinga is ‘Pantera’ (Panther); Ferland Mendy is ‘General’; Guler is ‘Abi’ (‘older brother’ in Turkish); and Rudiger is ‘Loco’ (Crazy).

The group is not entirely without concerns. Modric has been disappointed with his reduced role on the pitch (especially as he was told when he renewed that it would not change), and Nacho the same. Still, coaching staff sources praise Modric and Nacho as professionals who have put any worries to one side.

It is also worth mentioning Arrizabalaga, who arrived to be a starter and will likely finish the season as the third goalkeeper. There is great praise for his contribution from the sidelines, his positive attitude and his specific advice in key moments — he told Lunin to stay in the middle of the goal for Bernardo Silva’s penalty at City, for example. Arrizabalaga also told Guler to watch out for a chance to lob Osasuna goalkeeper Sergio Herrera, which almost resulted in one of the goals of the season.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the Bellingham effect has to be counted too. Across his remarkable debut season, he has become one of the team’s most influential players — a new leader on and off the pitch.

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Brilliant Bellingham

Impressive. Stratospheric. Unreal.

Those are just some of the words The Athletic has used to describe Bellingham this season.

The hype started with Madrid’s pre-season tour of the United States, when Bellingham endeared himself to team-mates and supporters with his performances and big personality, all having just recovered from a knee injury. It continued as he scored on his competitive debut against Athletic and went into overdrive as he netted 16 more goals in all competitions before Christmas — including an effort on his home debut against Getafe, Champions League goals against Napoli and a match-winning brace at Barcelona.

Ancelotti had wanted to sign Harry Kane last summer to replace departing centre-forward Karim Benzema, but Madrid’s interest did not go beyond testing the waters and the England captain ended up joining Bayern Munich.


Bellingham celebrates his Clasico winner in April (Oscar del Pozo/AFP via Getty Images)

Ancelotti knew that then-33-year-old Joselu, signed on loan instead, would not work as a regular starter, and he also already had lots of depth in midfield. So he reacted by reinventing the team, as Bellingham became a withdrawn central attacker. Playing in a new role, in a league, in a new country, at a club as demanding as Real Madrid and at 20 years old, Bellingham’s start was so extraordinary that it earned him comparisons with club legend Alfredo di Stefano.

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His stunning Clasico double against Barcelona in October — an unstoppable drive before a stoppage-time winner — told you everything you needed to know.

Not even a dislocated shoulder suffered in early November could stop him (Bellingham has continued to wear heavy strapping under his shirt in games). A midfielder who had never scored more than 14 times in a season surpassed that tally three months into the campaign and was wreaking havoc as a No 10 in Ancelotti’s diamond formation — although he often looked like a forward.

The goals slowed in the second half of the season, as an ankle injury in February and a suspension for dissent harmed his rhythm and contributed to a two-month goal drought. But his 18 La Liga goals have still won Madrid 14 points — the second-most of any player in Spain (behind Robert Lewandowski at Barca, with 17 points).

Ancelotti’s actual forwards have shone in front of goal, too. Vinicius Jr, having recovered from his injury problems, has scored 15 times in 2024 while Rodrygo has blown hot and cold but is still contributing crucial goals. There have been other key figures, not least Valverde, Ancelotti’s Swiss Army Knife on the right side of midfield.

However, in terms of influence across the campaign, it is hard to look beyond Bellingham. It was fitting that his goal — another stoppage-time winner in El Clasico on April 21 — effectively ended the title race and sent the Bernabeu into delirium.

But no cava until Wembley

After that Clasico victory over Barca, Ancelotti’s team embraced each other on the pitch. There were two differentiated groups: the players and the coaching staff — but when they went down to the changing rooms they all joined together to dance and play music at full volume, a custom after every important match.

Afterwards, contrary to what one might imagine, there was no big party. Some players and staff stayed for fast food in the stadium’s stands, and that was pretty much it.

Madrid’s joy will be controlled while their sights are still set on the Champions League, which is their main objective this season. Until the end of European competition, they will not fully let up.

Whether or not Ancelotti’s players end up lifting the trophy for a record-extending 15th time, ‘madridismo’ has already experienced plenty of moments to celebrate this term — not just in the bars or stands but in the club’s board room, too, with the expected signing of Kylian Mbappe.

Madrid ended last season with doubts. The manager’s job seemed in danger but they opted for stability. Now they are reaping the rewards — and they hope for more to come.

(Top photo: Oscar J. Barroso/Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Europa Press via Getty Images. Visual design by Eamonn Dalton)




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