Having returned to Real Madrid last summer, Carlo Ancelotti has scripted an amazing season taking the club to the brink of another UEFA Champions League triumph.
“Si, se puede” – “Yes, we can”, is what Real Madrid fans will be chanting this Saturday when their team steps out on the field to take on a might Liverpool side in the finals of the UEFA Champions League at Saint-Denis in Paris.
The chant of “Si, se puede” pretty much characterises the journey that Real Madrid have taken to reach the blockbuster event in France. It has been a story of tremendous self-belief and fighting spirit that does not waver even in the face of insurmountable odds.
Throughout their European campaign, Real Madrid have been pegged back and pinned down by different opposition. But every time they have willed their way back into the contests, displaying sheer determination and mental fortitude, along the way creating several magical moments that have left the onlookers mesmerised.
Having won La Liga at a canter, Los Blancos are on the verge of completing a League and European Cup double for just the fourth time in their illustrious history. And one man has been at the centre of it all, watching on from the sidelines with nothing but a crooked eyebrow for expression on his face – Carlo Ancelotti.
Almost a decade after delivering La Decima to Real Madrid, the Italian is at it yet again, working his magic to get the best of a squad which is in a phase of transition. However, not many had envisaged that Ancelotti and Real Madrid would take this path when the 62-year-old returned to the Santiago Bernabeu last year.
Carlo Ancelotti – Take Two
When Zinedine Zidane decided to step down as the manager of Real Madrid in May 2021, Carlo Ancelotti was not the first choice to replace him at the club. Indeed, Florentino Perez had his eyes on several other targets like Massimiliano Allegri, Mauricio Pochettino and even the young and unproven but immensely talented Julian Nagelsmann.
But for one or the other reason, none of those appointments materialised, eventually forcing the Real Madrid president to turn to a familiar face in Ancelotti. The Italian, in charge of Everton at the time, did not think twice before making the switch back to the Spanish capital, despite having been left disappointed with the way he was relieved of his duties during his first stint.
Since that spell at Real Madrid, Ancelotti’s career had somewhat plateaued, especially after his short stint with Bayern Munich. The veteran tactician did a decent job at Napoli but never really looked like leading the Partenopei to titles, while his time at Everton was too shortlived to make much of it.
So, naturally, when Real Madrid decided to bring Ancelotti back, many were not entirely convinced about the appointment. The circumstances in which he took over the reins, with the club being in a financially difficult situation and facing the wrath of the footballing community for spearheading the European Super League project, made the job harder, especially with a squad rebuild at hand.
Not to mention that he had to follow in the footsteps of Zidane – once his protege, who went on to forge an amazing managerial career at Real Madrid. But, Ancelotti has navigated all the problems with great ease, exuding great calmness, composure and control throughout, even when things have tended to get difficult for his team.
Real Madrid’s magical journey in Europe
Real Madrid were comfortable for most of their campaign in La Liga and won it fairly comfortably with plenty of matches left to be played, as Ancelotti became the first-ever manager to win league titles in Italy, England, France, Germany and Spain. However, their final run in the UEFA Champions League was anything but smooth sailing.
— Real Madrid C.F. ???? (@realmadriden) April 30, 2022
A group stage defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol early in the Champions League campaign rang some alarm bells. But, from that point on, Real Madrid have not looked back. They have had to face elite opposition one after the other, at every step of the way, while juggling their title challenge in La Liga. And there have been one or two slip-ups along the way, but the Spanish giants have bounced back every time.
Having topped their group, the Merengues were drawn against French giants PSG in the Round of 16. And the first-leg defeat away in France left them staring at an exit. But, an inspired home performance in the reverse fixture, led by a Karim Benzema hat-trick saw Real Madrid mount a remontada – the first of many on their journey to the finals.
For their efforts against PSG, Real Madrid were drawn against reigning European champions Chelsea in the quarter-finals. But, Benzema led the way with a hat-trick in the first leg to put them in the driver’s seat. A strong display from the Blues in the second leg at the Bernabeu left Los Blancos on the brink of elimination – only for Rodrygo and Benzema to score late goals to secure an extra-time win.
Up next were the mighty Manchester City, the champions of England, led by Pep Guardiola. The two teams put up a classic thriller in the first leg at the Etihad, as Real Madrid came up with a riposte to everything the Cityzens threw at them, with the game ending in a 4-3 defeat, leaving the tie poised nicely.
And, when Riyad Mahrez put Manchester City in front in the 73rd minute in the second leg at the Bernabeu, it could have been all over for Real Madrid. But, the Merengues rode on their collective spirit to mount a stirring comeback as Rodrygo netted twice in less than two minutes in stoppage-time to force the game into extra time, before Benzema, that man again, won it from the penalty spot. “Si, se puede”.
3 – Since 2003-04 when the last 16 was introduced, Real Madrid are the first team to lose a match in the last 16 (0-1 vs PSG), quarter-final (2-3 vs Chelsea) and semi-final (3-4 vs Man City) in a season and still reach the UEFA Champions League final. Immortal. pic.twitter.com/ZwHt65PDml
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 4, 2022
Man-management par extraordinaire
Throughout his career, Carlo Ancelotti has been known for his man-management skills and his ability to get the best out of the players at his disposal. And it has been very much apparent in this Real Madrid side this season.
Heading into the season, Real Madrid lost two of their superstars, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, who had been the cornerstone of the success the Merengues had achieved over the past decade. The first-choice midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro had an average age of 32. Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes had shown plenty of potential at Real Madrid but were yet to blossom into the stars they were touted to become.
But under the seasoned hands of Ancelotti, this Real Madrid side has turned into a cohesive unit that has overcome any and all deficiencies with their gritty nature, determination and togetherness within the squad.
After a mixed couple of seasons in Spain, Eder Militao has turned into a defensive monster this year and forged an excellent partnership alongside new signing David Alaba, who has taken no time settling into his new club. Modric has once again proven himself to be an ageless wonder, while Kroos and Casemiro have played their part on and off the field in ensuring that Real Madrid have not lost a beat.
No tactics, no shouting, no panicking. Ancelotti just raised his eyebrow and Real Madrid made 3 comebacks ? pic.twitter.com/7D5Mxc1nX9
— Football Factly (@FootballFactly) May 5, 2022
Ancelotti has also built a deadly attack led by the superlative Karim Benzema, with Vinicius and Rodrygo providing the necessary support for the Frenchman at every step of the way.
Vinicius has had his best season as a Real Madrid by some distance, having been directly involved in 41 goals in 51 games in all competitions. Rodrygo has made so many impactful performances along the way, none more so than the cameo against Manchester City in the semi-finals. And Benzema has transcended to a whole new level of superstardom under the Italian, with the Frenchman now being in the conversation for Ballon d’Or.
Nacho and Dani Carvajal. the other senior statesmen in the squad, have stepped up admirably whenever required and contributed handsomely to the success.
And Ancelotti deserves a lot of credit for the progress that the entire squad has shown throughout the season. There had been complaints about how he did not use Eduardo Camavinga all too regularly in the side. But the Italian has shown patience with the youngster, and it is starting to pay off towards the backend of the season.
His teams, as has been the case with Real Madrid this season, do not always play the most attractive football, the tactics might not exactly be genius. But, Ancelotti gets the job done. The Italian manages to coax the best out of his players by placing immense faith and confidence in them.
Toni Kroos: "Ancelotti asked for the opinion of the experienced players on who he should sub on at extra-time. This situation describes him perfectly as a coach and is why he works so well with the team. pic.twitter.com/bZFlNzSYCX
— Fasih Khawaja. (@KF7_gfx) May 5, 2022
Looking back at the Manchester City game, as revealed by Kroos, Ancelotti asked the senior members for suggestions to make substitutions. In another match in La Liga, the manager invited Militao to sit next to him and act as his assistant. Small gestures like these go a long way in building a player’s confidence, eventually resulting in the kind of performances that Real Madrid have been putting on.
Magic in the air!
Almost every time Real Madrid have taken the pitch in a Champions League game this season in the knockout stages, they have managed to conjure something special. And, a lot of it has to do with the togetherness and the camaraderie within the squad that Carlo Ancelotti has helped build.
At the same time, his calm and composed demeanour, even at the worst moments rubs, off on the entire team. Otherwise, it is just not possible for any side, even with a proven pedigree in the competition like Real Madrid, to produce so many moments of sheer brilliance and magic in a matter of months.
Ancelotti has, time and again, proven that he is the master when it comes to continental competitions. The Italian is, after all, the joint-most successful manager in European competitions with seven trophies to his name, including three UEFA Champions League crowns. And with him joining forces with the most successful team in Europe, there is bound to be magic!
Carlo Ancelotti is the first manager to reach 5 CL finals:
Don Carlo’s Madrid going to Paris! ? pic.twitter.com/0non4jiG0M
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) May 4, 2022
The last time he led Real Madrid out into a Champions League final, Ancelotti delivered La Decima, ending the club’s twelve-year wait for European triumph. On Saturday, he will have a chance to do the league and European Cup double with the Merengues. Even though Liverpool are more than formidable opponents, count Real Madrid out at your own peril.
After all, when it comes to magical and memorable European nights, few do it better than Ancelotti and Real Madrid.