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Real Madrid’s Subtle Tweaks for Champions League Glory

Eternal champion Real Madrid has reached the Champions League final in which they will face Borussia Dortmund. Los Blancos have also reclaimed the La Liga title, a year after losing it to their eternal rival, FC Barcelona

Sometimes, big changes aren’t necessary – small adjustments can make a lasting impact. So, how did Carlo Ancelotti tweak his team to bring them back to winning ways?

A Lack of Transfers

On paper, Real Madrid’s transfer activities look underwhelming. Many critics believed the team needed drastic changes. After being eliminated in the quarterfinals last season against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City with a crushing 4-0 defeat, fans wanted to see a more proactive Real Madrid. 

Many questioned the usage of fullbacks, as French midfielder Eduardo Camavinga was forced to play as a left-back in the Champions League. 

The lack of investment in fullbacks has been a persistent issue, and it continues to this day. However, Florentino Perez was not swayed by the fans’ demands – and instead, chose to quietly invest elsewhere.

The Arrival of Jude Bellingham

By all means, the loudest sign of a new Real Madrid was the inclusion of Jude Bellingham from Dortmund for about 90 million euros. This transfer is undoubtedly the catalyst for Real Madrid’s renewed glory. 

It proved to be the right move, as 34-year-old Toni Kroos announced his retirement just over a week ago. The transitions from the Modrić-Kroos pair had been long anticipated. 

However, this season, the pair still played a significant number of games – particularly Kroos. In addition to Bellingham, Arda Güler was brought in for the midfield.

 Although he struggled initially and didn’t have a meaningful role throughout most of the season, he eventually took off in the last weeks. But Güler’s presence on the scoresheet in the final games suggests that the investment was a wise one for Los Blancos.

Two other players joined without making a major impact, Fran García and Kepa. However, another loan signing created his own legacy. Joselu unexpectedly became one of the stars despite not being the flashiest. When paired with Bellingham, the two formed a formidable duo and became a true problem for backlines in Spain and across the globe. 

At 34, Joselu managed to score ten goals despite the pressure and a different environment. If there haven’t been major changes in the players’ names, what did Ancelotti do to transform this team?

The Freedom of Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti adapts his strategy according to his players, and he did so once again this season. Understanding that Camavinga at left-back was not a viable long-term solution, he brought the Frenchman back to his natural midfield position. 

This second line in Madrid’s formation has been flexible throughout the campaign, which has ensured tactical diversity. With the likes of Federico Valverde, Toni Kroos, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga, and Luka Modrić, Ancelotti found the perfect balance between dynamic younger midfielders and the experienced old guard. 

This has guaranteed stability at the back while allowing for fluidity and creativity in the middle of the pitch. Kroos always finds a way to reach the pacier forwards in the box (as Manchester City realized), which has often served as a tactical advantage for Ancelotti.

When the Offense Can’t Be Stopped

Clubs in La Liga never found a way to deal with the offensive quartet of Real Madrid, usually composed of Vinicius, Bellingham, Joselu, and Rodrygo. While Vinicius and Rodrygo have been on the team for years, Bellingham represents the change between the 22/23 and 23/24 seasons

The Englishman has changed every team he has played for, acting as a leader without needing to speak much. Expectations were high when he landed on Spanish soil, and despite his young age, he not only fulfilled those expectations but exceeded them.

Real Madrid has rarely seen a youngster take the league by storm within a few matches and maintain that level throughout the entire season. But Bellingham is different – he made an immediate impact, scoring against Athletic Club in his debut. 

More goals followed, and soon enough, Bellingham entered the Pichichi race. Although he didn’t win it – Girona’s Dovbyk did – there is no doubt that his influence on the team’s dynamics is noticeable.

Remaining Composed in the Storm

One of Ancelotti’s most impressive traits is his calmness in managing challenging situations. Although the situation seemed difficult, with Alaba out for the season and Militao only returning in the final weeks, Ancelotti continued to work steadily. He realized that he had just enough with Nacho (captain) and Rüdiger fully settled. One of Ancelotti’s strengths is understanding the reality of his squad and maximizing its potential. Carvajal has had one of his best seasons, especially on the offensive end. Mendy, although not brilliant offensively, managed to get the job done. 

Ancelotti’s greatest accomplishment is recognizing that Bellingham should not be confined to one position – he’s a roaming player. As he moves across the pitch, he leads by example. 

The Italian coach has emphasized that he prefers to allow players to express themselves. Ancelotti’s current team exemplifies this philosophy, presenting multiple threats simultaneously. Real Madrid usually comes out on top by overwhelming other teams with challenges. Only Diego Simeone’s Atlético found a solution to this problem. 

Accommodating Toni Kroos as the Orchestra Leader

Another masterstroke concerns the role of Toni Kroos, who faced increasing criticism last season due to his lack of pace. 

However, his passing remains a difference-maker – a free joker in Ancelotti’s deck. Kroos’s presence has been a real problem for Madrid’s opponents because it allows Los Blancos to combine high-paced football with the precision and control that Kroos provides. 

His unparalleled accuracy in passing means he can effortlessly activate the wings or the forwards – a persistent theme in Madrid’s play throughout the season. And the truth is – nobody has quite figured out how to stop Kroos from having the ball, the only solution seems to be stopping the German maestro before he can pull the trigger.

The Biggest Change Is Not Change but Trust

The biggest change, surprisingly, was not making any changes at all. For Carlo Ancelotti, it was always about letting the players decide how they wanted to play. 

He has often been criticized in the past, but the recent influx of players has vindicated Real Madrid’s transfer strategy. Critics once doubted whether amassing this amount of talent was a viable strategy, but it’s clear now that it works.

Madrid has multiple ways of playing the game and readjusts according to its needs. With the rumoured (and almost certain) arrival of Kylian Mbappé, it seems unlikely that Madrid will slow down anytime soon. 

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