'At least Mourinho had a plan' – Ancelotti's Madrid lacking direction as Atletico confirm title credentials

The Santiago Bernabeu showed its frustration at another derby defeat on Saturday, with some supporters even pining for the Portuguese as boos and jeers rang around the ground

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

The honeymoon period is over for Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian coach suffered his first defeat at Real Madrid and it arrived in the same manner as the last loss suffered by his predecessor Jose Mourinho: in a derby at home to Atletico.

The Bernabeu boos no doubt still ringing in his ears, Ancelotti admitted afterwards that Madrid still lack a clear strategy. The Italian is attempting to alter los Blancos‘ style from a counter-attacking ploy to a more patient, possession and passing philosophy. But it’s not working at the moment.

Perhaps primitive, and certainly one-dimensional, Mourinho’s Madrid were devastating and incredibly effective in full flow. And at least he had a plan. At the moment, it is often hard to tell exactly what Ancelotti’s team are all about.

Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino was forced to answer questions on Friday about withdrawing Lionel Messi nine minutes from time in the 4-1 win at home to Real Sociedad on Tuesday. But with the victory already assured and amid a run of four games in 10 days, such a decision was not only logical, but sensible.

Messi never likes to be substituted and the Argentine’s disapproval at his coach’s decision was etched on his face. Yet he is also aware that he cannot continue to play every single minute after he was disrupted by injury problems last season.

The 26-year-old struck a stunning opening goal to take his tally to 324 in Barcelona colours and overtake Real Madrid legend Raul, but soon departed with a thigh injury and will now miss the Champions League clash against Celtic on Tuesday, and probably the trip to Valladolid next weekend.

More conveniently for Barca, he will also be absent for Argentina’s last two World Cup qualifiers in October (the Albiceleste have already sealed passage to Brazil 2014).

So now it’s time for a proper rest.

There was no love lost between the Bernabeu faithful and Mourinho following the Portuguese’s ultimately inevitable summer exit, yet groups of supporters chanted the 50-year-old’s name outside the stadium on Saturday evening.

Hours earlier, the Chelsea boss had been mocked by Tottenham fans in the London derby at White Hart Lane. “You’re not ‘Special’ any more…,” they gleefully sang.

Support from Spain will have been unexpected for the Portuguese, but his Real rarely performed with such ineptitude as Ancelotti’s side on Saturday. Even in the derby defeat in the Copa del Rey final back in May, Madrid were the better team, struck the woodwork twice and should have won the game. Last night, they were barely in it at all, with the midfield overrun, Cristiano Ronaldo isolated and the defence dreadful.

“We need to have a more clear idea of how to play,” was Ancelotti’s assessment. “The system is not a problem; the problem is the speed of our play – we need [better] movement.”

Particularly poor in that respect was Karim Benzema, and Ancelotti amazed a disbelieving Bernabeu by taking off Isco and leaving the profligate Frenchman on for the entire 90 minutes. That decision brought boos and jeers aplenty, and the man who came on, Alvaro Morata, showed more determination, desire and enthusiasm than the France forward in his brief 18 minutes on the pitch.

Diego Costa also put Benzema’s showing to shame with a typically wholehearted performance that included the only goal of the game, scored early on.

The Brazilian played with passion and, so often on the edge, could have been sent off when he continued berating referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after a yellow card had been brandished in his direction. Indeed, only the intervention of Costa’s team-mates appeared to dissuade the official from producing a second card.

However, that is Diego Costa and Madrid fans would love to see such a committed performer in their own side. Their loss, though, is Atletico’s gain and the Brazilian’s strike was his eighth league goal of the season, putting him level in the Pichichi race with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

Atletico are, however, a team without stars: every man contributes to the collective strength of a side that has now won seven out of seven in La Liga this term. Koke, David Villa, Diego Godin, Gabi, Juanfran, Filipe Luis – Atletico had heroes all over the pitch.

“The players stood up,” Simeone said. “From the first to the 18th [of those called up], we knew there was only one option: and that was to win the game. The economic power [of Barcelona and Madrid] is superior to the rest, [but] we have our weapons and we try to give our lives in every game.”

Sat alongside Barca at the top of the table, Atletico must now be considered genuine title contenders. Simeone’s side made the Catalans look ordinary over two games in the Spanish Supercopa and have now defeated their city rivals at the Bernabeu twice in a row – having not triumphed previously on derby day since 1999.

Madrid could learn much from their rival’s impressive intensity, while Ancelotti needs a proper plan. The supposed switch from a counter-attacking ploy to a more technical and possession philosophy is, in theory, a step up, but, at the moment, this team are neither one thing nor the other. The Bernabeu has made its first feelings heard. Ancelotti has been warned.

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09 2013
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