Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio
Il Divin Codino

Monday, 4 May 2020

Tévez takes title

Boca crowned champions before shutdown

“It is the biggest game in our history,” runs the Argentinian FA campaign. “And we need to win.”
Amid the slightly laboured football analogy imploring people not to go out – “if you leave home you’ll be caught offside and hurt the team” – was the simple message of unity in a time of crisis. Star players appeared in another video saying: “There are no colours, we have to wear the same shirt.”
Carlos Tevez no doubt had similar good intentions when he said players were not the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. “Footballers can go six months, or a year, without being paid,” claimed the Boca Juniors captain. “We are not in the same desperate situation as kids who live day to day.”
Tevez grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood and knows first-hand the social and economic reality of many people in his country. Yet his comments sparked controversy among his fellow players. Most do not earn the wages he is on at Boca, nor indeed have they enjoyed successful and lucrative moves to Europe.

“Many players are in the same situation as any other worker who can’t make ends meet if he’s not paid,” said Luis Angel Salmon, a charismatic lower-league journeyman striker in his late 30s, who curiously had a short spell at the same club as Tevez in China.
Diego Maradona, who is coach of Gimnasia de La Plata, offered his contract and wages up for review. But he warned not all players can go so long without pay and he believes some club directors
are using the situation to avoid paying players, arguing: “It seems some clubs have always had a pandemic.”

Clubs in Argentina already faced a juggling act to balance the books, with rampant inflation and currency controls, before the suspension of all activities due to the coronavirus outbreak. TV money
is secured for April, but after that it is unclear where finance will come from.
The coronavirus pandemic reached South America late. Argentina registered its first case in early March, several months after the outbreak in China, and it has suffered relatively few deaths. The country went into full national lockdown on March 20 and Argentina president Alberto Fernandez, recently declared an honorary club member at Argentinos Juniors for his birthday present, admits: “I don’t know when football will return. May seems the worst month for it.” As winter nears in the southern hemisphere, Argentina expects the spike in cases in the coming months.
Racing Club de Avellaneda and Talleres de Cordoba, were among the first top-flight clubs to announce a reduction in players’ wages in order to pay club employees.
Clubs are now debating how football will continue after lockdown. The immediate task at hand is resuming the second phase of the 2019-2020 season – the Copa Superliga, a separate competition and title in itself.

Meanwhile the first phase, the Superliga, ended in dramatic fashion. In mid-February, with two games to go, River Plate appeared set to win the only piece of silverware missing from Marcelo Gallardo’s personal trophy cabinet. Since taking over at the Monumental in 2014, he has lead River to an astonishing period of success, winning continental trophies and defeating Boca Juniors in high-octane clashes – not least the Copa Libertadores Final of 2018. But he had yet to win the Argentinian league.

And so it remains. River stumbled and took just two points from the last six available. Boca took all six and won the first title in the new era.
Club presidential elections at Boca last December saw Jorge Ameal win, and with him Juan Roman  Riquelme returned to the club as sporting director. The former playmaker’s first decision was to bring
2007 Libertadores-winning coach Miguel Angel Russo back to the club.
Russo replaced Gustavo Alfaro, whose conservative approach had riled senior players. On Russo’s return the side drew 0-0 and then won all six remaining games. He shifted the team’s formation and approach, with the result that the defence conceded one goal in seven games, and the attack struck16 times.

While Eduardo Salvio was the highest scorer in the season sprint finish, it was a rejuvenated Tevez who led the line. His star had shone dimmer in recent months and there were questions over his future.
And while River were failing to beat Atletico Tucuman in the north of the country, in Buenos Aires it was Tevez’s goal against Gimnasia that secured the title. It was another personal milestone for the forward – his 200th appearance and his10th title with the club.
While it remains unclear when the Copa Superliga will resume, some club directors see a chance to change an already complicated league structure

Monday, 30 December 2019

Playing the regeneration game

How long is too long? At what point do players, on hearing a manager’s motivational words, begin to shrug and think we’ve heard it all before? At what point does a manager, having worked out a successful way to play, have to accept that others have begun to suss him out and that he needs to make significant changes? At what point do players, used to playing with the same team-mates
in the same style, become stale? When, in football, does evolution become necessary?
It was the Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann, one of the game’s great wanderers, who popularised the
expression “the third year is fatal” – even though it was in his third season at Benfica that they produced probably their definitive performance under him, beating Real Madrid 5-2 in 1962 to retain the European Cup. But then again, despite Eusebio breaking into the team that season, Benfica failed to complete a hat-trick of league titles, finishing second behind Sporting. It may be that the
early symptoms of decline had begun to emerge even before Guttmann’s meeting with the Benfica board, at which they rejected his demand for a bonus for winning the European Cup, precipitating his departure and the “curse” that has seen Benfica lose in eight European Finals since.
Jose Mourinho, who is often compared to Guttmann although their backgrounds and footballing
philosophies could hardly be more different, has only once lasted more than three years at a club, and that was in his first spell at Chelsea when he was deposed in the September of his fourth season, by which time his relationship with his squad and the board had deteriorated.
It’s notable, too, that Pep Guardiola struggled in his fourth season in charge at Barcelona and is now finding life difficult in his fourth campaign at Manchester City.
Mauricio Pochettino, sacked by Tottenham Hotspur in November in his sixth season in charge, had begun to fear entropy two years ago, begging for significant investment to refresh the squad. Perhaps for a club on the way up – each season reaching new ground as Spurs did, both literally in the stadium move and metaphorically in terms of their progress – decay can be deferred, but what was striking this season was how weary Pochettino’s players seemed, how much less focused their pressing appeared.
In part, the issue is directly tactical as teams get worked out. A prime example is that of Ipswich Town, who were promoted under Alf Ramsey in 1961. Their use of Jimmy Leadbitter as a withdrawn left-winger foxed opponents, who didn’t even have the advantage of regular television coverage, and in their first season up they won the league. The following season they faced Tottenham in the Charity Shield and Spurs, having played them twice before, had worked out a way of combating Leadbitter. Ipswich lost 5-1 and were involved in a relegation scrap when Ramsey was made England manager the following March.
Plan... Jetro Willems of Newcastle scores against Man City
To suggest Manchester City have been worked out is over-simplistic, but what is true is that Guardiola’s brand of high-tempo possession football, based on positional mastery, does not terrify teams as it once did. There’s no longer a sense of shame for an opponent in having only 25 per cent of the ball. Teams like Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United know that City can be frustrated if you sit deep against them and deny them space. And if you can do that, City are vulnerable defensively. It’s not easy, obviously, but sides now have a basic plan and some sense of hope.
It is also a matter of personality. Guardiola is ferociously intense; it is part of what has made him so successful. He drives himself exceptionally hard and analyses opponents with ferocious rigour. His game preparation is unimpeachable and no manager is less likely to be taken unawares. But that approach takes its toll on the players.
At Bayern Munich there was a collective sigh of relief when Guardiola left as players felt they could breathe again. Perhaps Carlo Ancelotti, his successor, was ultimately too laid back but there was no doubt that the players relished the more relaxed atmosphere in his first few months in charge – just as Ajax responded to the departure of Rinus Michels and his iron fist in 1971 by producing arguably their best football under Ștefan Kovács.
There are other issues at City this season. For example, the decision not to replace Vincent Kompany was exposed as a needless gamble by the injury to Aymeric Laporte. While Fernandinho has dropped back to operate as a central defender, Rodri has struggled to replicate his team-mate’s consistent excellence at the back of midfield.
While City have been a little unlucky this season, Liverpool have been both fortunate and relentless. The “expected goals” charts show City comfortably at the top of the table – that they are not similarly placed in the Premier League is not just a matter of luck but also of something equally intangible: confidence, form, ruthlessness. Call it what you will, but City this season have so far, somehow, lacked the edge of the past two seasons. That judgement is hugely subject to confirmation bias – they aren’t getting the same results so something must be wrong. Yet we also know that players tire of being remorselessly drilled and we know Guardiola, intense as he is, seems to feel the pressure more at a club as time goes by.
Regeneration, in terms of tactics, approach and personnel, may be the hardest thing in management.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Space for Rodríguez?

Carlo Ancelotti must find a way to accommodate Real Madrid’s latest star signing.

There are, essentially, two ways of building a team: you can start with the philosophy and acquire players to fit it, or you can start by signing gifted players and trust your coach to find a way for them to play together.

The vast majority of clubs lie somewhere between the two extremes, but since the days of Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid have tended to the latter. Florentino Pérez wasn’t dissuaded from that approach even by the failure of the galácticos era, and this summer he has followed a familiar path with the arrival of James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos for a combined total of €110 million.

The question is how they can be accommodated into a team that were, after all, crowned European champions for the 10th time in May.
The good news is that Real have, in Carlo Ancelotti, a coach who is a specialist in dealing with the whims of acquisition-happy owners. At Milan, he worked under Silvio Berlusconi and went along grudgingly with the owner’s demand that Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko should be played together. Since then, at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, at Paris Saint-German under the Qataris and at Real, he has accepted his job is to take a giddy array of stars and make a constellation from them. It can take time, though. Last season, when the issue was fitting in Gareth Bale, Isco and Asier Illarramendi, it wasn’t until November that he settled on the 4-3-3 set-up – with Angel Dí Maria breaking forward from the left side of midfield – that ultimately brought success in the Champions League Final.
A harsh critic might suggest that Ancelotti needed that Champions League triumph to redeem the season. Had Real lost, it would have been a disappointing campaign – particularly given Barcelona’s struggles – to have finished with only the Spanish Cup. It is a remarkable feature of Ancelotti’s managerial career that he has won more Champions Leagues than league titles.
The problem now is where to fit Rodríguez into a forward line that alread features Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Bale, Isco and Jesé; something complicated by the fact that the midfield, with Luka Modrić and Di Maria, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso and Illarramendi, is already packed with creativity.
Last season, Ancelotti’s task was made simpler by the departure of Mesut Özil to Arsenal and, both for squad harmony and to comply with financial fairplay requirements, there will almost certainly be at least one major sale this summer. It appears that Dí Maria, despite his man-of-the-match performance in the Champions League Final, is the nearest to the exit – which may make sense if players are ranked by glamour, but is likely to create a whole host of new tactical issues.
Dí Maria was reportedly close to leaving last summer and was forced to adopt a deeper-lying position after staying. But he thrived and became the key to the way Real Madrid played. If necessary, he had the discipline to sit deep alongside Alonso and Modrić  and, as he showed in the Champions League semi-fi nal victories over Bayern Munich, he is a master at leading the counter-attack, adept both at carrying the ball from deep and at choosing the right time for a pass.
In games in which Real Madrid played against a massed defence, he could operate as a left-winger as Ronaldo drifted infield, while still having the awareness to cover for Marcelo when he overlapped from full-back. It’s hard to see who else in the squad could realistically replicate that role.
And if Ancelotti sticks to 4-3-3, that means there is a danger, against better sides, of there being no link between the midfield and forward lines. Rodríguez has said it would be a “dream” to play with Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale. It may be that he’s merely speculating, but if that comment was based on conversations he has had with Ancelotti, it suggests a shift to 4-2-3-1, with the Colombian behind Benzema and flanked by the two most expensive players in football history.

The formation initially sounds enticing, even if there is no space for Dí Maria, but the risk is that Real Madrid end up with too many players in too small a space. The front three worked last season because Benzema dropped off the front line, creating space for the athletic surges of Ronaldo and Bale. If Rodríguez is operating as a no10 there is less space for Benzema to move into, and that could lead to overcrowding and, more troublingly, a lack of the verticality, of Bale or Ronaldo suddenly barrelling through from deep, that made Real so thrilling at times last season.
And that’s without even mentioning Isco who, at 22, may accept a role as areserve, and Kroos who, as a 24-year-old World Cup-winner, probably won’t.
The German, at least, can play either as an attacking or holding midfielder – some have suggested that his passing isn’t quite quick enough to play as a creator at the very highest level and that the deeper-lying position is more suited to him – but that still doesn’t create an obvious space for him. If the shape is 4-2-3-1, he is either competing with Rodríguez for the central creative role or with Modrić , Alonso, Illarramendi and Khedira for one of two deeper slots – a glut that has led to suggestions that Khedira could be sold.
That’s if the shape is 4-2-3-1. If Ancelotti sticks with 4-3-3, the pressure is eased on the deeper-lying players, but it probably means Rodríguez operating as Ronaldo’s back-up on the left, with Isco
relegated even further down in the pecking order. Ronaldo could become a central forward – something he did to some effect in his days with Manchester United but has been reluctant to do since.
In the history of the game there have been very few squads that have contained such talent as Real Madrid’s. Ancelotti’s job is to forge a team from those riches. It’s not an unfamiliar job for him, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Talent Scout: Leon Goretzka

Leon Goretzka (Germany)
Club: Schalke 04
Position: Midfielder
Age: 18 (06.0.21995)
Previous club: VfL Buchum

Dubbed "the new Ballack" in certain German quarters, the teenage central midfielder is looking forward to continuing his education both on and off the pitch this season.

With just 12 months experience of second-tier football with Buchum under his belt, the rookie joined Ruhr rivals Schalke this summer after they activated a €2.75 million release clause in his contract and he will now look to combine a Bundesliga debut with the demands of his school-leaving exams next year.

On the radar of a host of bigger clubs - notably Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund - the youngster is as level-headed as he is unhurried.

"When such big clubs show an interest you have to be realistic," says Goretzka, who has been a key figure in German representative sides from under-16 and under-19 level. "I'm at a very early stage of my professional career, just a year in, and haven't played a single game in Bundesliga.
"A transfer to Real Madrid was not really worth considering."
"I weighed up all my options and decided Schalke was the club for me. This is the right place for the next step in my career.
"The quality of training will be higher, Schalke are an important club who are always in contention in the Bundesliga and play in Europe, and with Bochum and Gelsenkirchen quite close I can continue at my present school."

An exciting mix of vision, astute decision-making, confidence and maturity, he will initially find himself behind midfield pivots Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustädter in the Schalke pecking order, but his time will undoubtedly come.

"I've never seen a boy of his age with so much ability and desire.," says ex-Bochum director of sport Jens Todt. "He has a genuine shot at becoming one of the world's best.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Talent Scout: Álvaro Morata

Álvaro Morata (Spain)
Club: Real Madrid
Position: Forward
Age: 20 (23.10.1992)
Honours: 2013 Euro Under-21s, 2011 Euro Under-19s

Álvaro Morata, the top scorer for Spain as they won this summer's European Under-21 Championship in Israel, was the archetypal supersub. He scored four goals in five matches, leaving the bench for a spot of opportune end-of-game lock-picking to secure the points.

Whenever Julen Lopetegui's side needed the momentum to swing their way, the coach would turn swiftly to the Real Madrid frontman to help Spain retain their under-21 crown.

Top scorer with six goals when Spain won the Euro Under-19s in 2011, Morata was the essence of time and motion efficiency throughout Israel 2013.

In Spain's opener against Russia he headed home the only goal of the game less than 20 minutes after entering the fray. He then came off the bench against Germany and again scored the only goal of the game, securing all three points in the final four minutes. In the starting line-up for the last group game, versus Holland, he was on target once more in a 3-0 victory over Norway.

Because of his power in the air, his ability as an attacking pivot, good movement and sheer hunger for goals, Morata often has been compared to former Real Madrid and Spain centre-forward Fernando Morientes. But even more satisfying for the youngster are the clear similarities between his career and that of his boyhood hero: Madrid legend Raúl.

Both strikers passed through the Atlético Madrid academy, both made their Real Madrid senior debuts at Zaragoza's La Romareda stadium - Morata's La Liga bow coming back in December 2010 - and both have had the honour of being the top scorer at a European Under-21 final (Raúl finishing top of the competition's goal-grabbing charts in 1996).

Having joined Real from Getafe as a youth, in a perfect world he will become a fully fledged member of the club's first-team squad this season. To do so, he just has to hope that he does not suffer the perennial problems of all Bernabéu cantera (graduates): the big-name squeeze.

Monday, 5 August 2013

New Men, New Strategies

Managerial changes at the Premier League's top three clubs will make for a fascinating season.

In a world in which the rich are getting even richer and success seems increasingly the preserve of a select handful of clubs, this season's Premier League promises a rare openness, with the big three of Manchester City and Chelsea all changing manager. It is an instability that could just open the door for Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and, with a couple more signings, perhaps Liverpool.

For David Moyes, Manule Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho there are tactical issues to be addressed. And it says much for the globalised nature of the modern game that one whose approach seems most attuned to how his new side played last season in the one with no Premier League experience: Pellegrini. With Moyes, of course, the comparison isn't entirely fair, for it is not comparing like with like to look at how he played with Everton and imagine that approach mapped on to United. Moyes did wonders on a restricted budget at Goodison Park, and if his team's football was at times more rugged or more defensive than United fans would like even, at times, more than Everton fans were happy with- then the pragmatism was at least understandable in context.

Moyes played 4-4-2 or 4-4-1 (the difference between which is often in the eye of the beholder) in the vast majority of his games in charge of Everton. It's not a huge leap from that to the 4-2-3-1 United played most of last season-and in many games United played a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 hybrid with Wayne Rooney advanced of the two wide creators.

At Everton, Moyes, was flexible enough that at times-admittedly, usually because of injury-he would play Tim Cahill as a false nine. His side often played quite narrow through the midfield, with Steven Pienaar tucked in on the left to allow Leighton Baines to overlap, with either Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith or, occasionally, Leon Osman on the right - all of them players who naturally drift infield.

At United, Moyes' wide options- Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa - are all more inclined to stay high and wide, so that will require an adjustment on Moyes' part.

More significant than the shape, though, is the style. Only Newcastle United and Fulham played more long balls per game than the 64 that Everton recorded last season, while only Manchester City, Arsenal and Southampton played fewer than the 59 per game recorded by United. Everton come under pressure and have to clear their lines quickly more often than United, and their midfield is not as technically accomplished. But that is just another adjustment Moyes will have to make. And that, in a sense, is the problem of appointing a manager who has experience of the Premier League but not of working at a club that expects to win every game and whose fans demand that their side takes the initiative.

Pellegrini has the opposite problem. He has coached regularly in the Champions League- and achieved remarkable results with Villarreal and Málaga- but has no experience of the Premier League.  History is not exactly awash with 59-year-old who have moved into a new culture and prospered, but English football is less idiosyncratic now than it was, say, the 54-year-old Slovak coach Jozef Vengloš took over at Aston Villa for one miserable season in 1990.

Pellegrini takes charge of a well-balanced squad with a rare mix of physical and technical attributes that has undergone sensible remodelling over the summer. The arrival of Fernandinho should lessen the burden on Yaya Touré as the more progressive of the two midfield holders, while Jesús Navas offers pace and penetration wide. City chief executive Ferran Soriano had promised three or four big-name signings, insisting that the focus this term would be on making the squad better rather than bigger-an acknowledgement that the transfer dealing of last summer had the transfer dealing of last summer had been flawed. So far he was delivered on that, with centre-forward Álvaro Negredo the third signing, and Stevan Jovetić being lined up from Fiorentina.

There was much mockery of City's hierarchy for explaining that Roberto Mancini had been sacked because they wanted a more "holistic" approach, although it's hard to know why. It surely makes sense for every section of a club to be puling in the same direction, and the appointment of Pellegrini is part of that. At Málaga, his preferred system was a 4-2-3-1, while at Villarreal he tended to use a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 with two holding players. City's squad seems ideally suited to playing that way, with two of Gareth Barry, Touré, Javi Garcia, Fernandinho and Jack Rodwell sitting, and two of Samir Nasri, James Milner, David Silva and Navas wide.

Mourinho is unusual in offering both top-level Champions League and Premier League experience. Instead, the issue surrounding him, as so often at Chelsea where owner Roman Abramovich has consistently eschewed anything resembling a holistic or consistent policy, is that the players in the squad don't necessarily fit with his preferred style of play. The 4-2-3-1 shape the squad lends itself to is the same as the one he employed at Real Madrid - even if he did prefer a 4-3-3 in his previous stint at the club.

Interim boss Rafa Benítez did instil a certain discipline at Chelsea last season-in some ways transforming Eden Hazard into a player who tracked back-and Oscar is as a hard-working a central creator as there is, but this is still a squad made up primarily of neat, technical players rather than the more muscular figures Mourinho has traditionally preferred. Certainly if John Obi Mikel leaves, there is desperate need of an enforcer at the back of midfield.

And the really is the fascination of this season of the three arrivals on the benches of the big clubs, Pellegrini seems the new manager best suited to his squad, yet he is also the one least familiar with English football.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Carlo Ancelotti Will Be Like a Breath of Fresh Air at Real Madrid

The Italian's easygoing nature extends to tactics – from Parma to PSG he has learned to change according to circumstance.

Perhaps Carlo Ancelotti's greatest gift as a coach is his affability. He desperately wants to succeed but he recognises there are things in life other than football – such as food, even if he is rather slimmer now than he once was. His years at Milan under Silvio Berlusconi and at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich passed without ructions with owners noted for interfering. He even managed to cool a developing (on one side at least) feud with José Mourinho by suggesting they simply pack it in.

After the sulphurous reign of Mourinho, his breezy pleasantness will be a cleansing blast at the Bernabéu. Real Madrid can be a strange place politically but if there is any top manager equipped to handle the internal pressures, it is Ancelotti, a man seemingly able to face down most situations with a raise of his famous eyebrow (according to the journalist Sheridan Bird, the effect is the result of limited movement caused by an elbow in the face from Marco Tardelli).

His easygoing nature extends to tactics. Ancelotti may be inclined to the 4-3-2-1 on which he wrote his coaching dissertation at Coverciano but he will change according to circumstance – a lesson he learned at Parma, his first job in management. Then, he admits, he was too wedded to the 4-4-2 he had learned under Arrigo Sacchi at Milan. That he had learned it, even, said much for his character and his willingness to learn. Ancelotti arrived from Roma aged 28 and took time to adapt.

"He struggled at first," Sacchi said. "Berlusconi said we had an orchestra director who couldn't read sheet music. I told him I would teach him to sing in tune with our orchestra. Every day, I would make him come an hour before training with some kids from the youth team and we would go through everything. Eventually he sang in perfect tune."

At Parma, Ancelotti insisted on playing that way, even though that meant Gianfranco Zola playing on the left wing until he decided to move to Chelsea. It also meant he missed out on the chance to sign Roberto Baggio, who was keen to leave Milan, but wanted to play behind the front two rather than compete with Hernan Crespo and Enrico Chiesa for one of the two striking berths and so joined Bologna instead.

Now, Ancellotti insists, he would be more flexible, would find a way to accommodate a talent like Baggio's. "I lost a great opportunity to improve the team with the ability of Baggio," he said. "But that was a lack of experience. I had been a coach just two years. I didn't have the knowledge to know I could change things. And maybe I was a little bit scared to change because it was the start of my career."

He proved that in his second coaching job, at Juventus, where he switched to a back three, playing 3-4-1-2 to accommodate Zinedine Zidane behind a front two.

At Milan, it was fairly obvious Ancelotti wanted to play a 4-3-2-1 but when the order came from Berlusconi to use two central strikers, he demurred and ended up playing 4-3-1-2 slightly more than twice as often in Serie A as he did his preferred style.

At Chelsea, he tried to operate with a diamond in midfield but, realising that Frank Lampard is better with the ball in front of him than playing with his back to goal, soon adapted, using Deco or Joe Cole in the role before switching back to a shape that varied between 4-3-2-1 and 4-3-3.

In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ancelotti found the idea front man for his 4-3-2-1 at Paris Saint-Germain, with Ezequiel Lavezzi, Jérémy Ménez, Nenê and Javier Pastore playing off him. Even then, he was prepared to change to 4-4-2 when the occasion demanded it.

It is hard to imagine Ancelotti changing much in his first weeks at Madrid – although much, of course, depends on who they sign. It's certainly possible to imagine a 4-3-2-1 with Karim Benzema at the peak, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil tucked behind in what would effectively be free roles, and a three of Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric providing the platform. Or perhaps Angel di María could be used a little deeper than previously – as Pastore was often used at PSG – as a creative player who starts deep and then advances.

More likely, especially with Isco set to join and another forward likely, is that the 4-2-3-1 will remain. It's a system that allows the use of four creative players, plus at least one attacking full-back and a player who can advance from deep and so fits a squad who are both heavy on attacking players, the inclinations of the president Florentino Pérez and the way Madrid need to play in a league in which they are expected to win the vast majority of their games.

The one problem is that Ancelotti has used a 4-2-3-1 in just 3% of the league games in which he has been coach since taking over at Juventus in 1999. For a manager so undogmatic it probably isn't an issue but it does seem he has been appointed more for his personality than because his natural tactical philosophy is a fit with the players in the squad.