Rocked by recent results against Barcelona and Sevilla in La Liga, Los Blancos look to the Champions League and the Copa del Rey in a vital month for both coach and club
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The pressure is on. With La Liga looking less likely after defeats against Barcelona and Sevilla, Real Madrid turn their attentions to their Decima dream and the Copa del Rey final against the Catalans later this month. And although neither will be straightforward, Ancelotti and Real simply must secure some silverware this season.
After losing the Clasico at Camp Nou in late October, Madrid’s streak of 31 games without defeat left the capital club in a commanding position ahead of the home game against Barca 10 days ago, but a 4-3 reverse in that fixture and a 2-1 loss at Sevilla in their next match mean Madrid now need both Atleti and the Blaugrana to slip up in the Liga’s final furlong.
With that in mind, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey now assume additonal importance, while the next few weeks are set to define Madrid’s suddenly stuttering season.
“I don’t feel under pressure,” Ancelotti said on Tuesday ahead of Madrid’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Borussia Dortmund, the team that ended Los Blancos‘ hopes of claiming European football’s most prestigious prize last year. And the Italian was in buoyant mood in the build-up to Wednesday’s game. “We’re very excited,” he said. “We’re the only team that hasn’t lost in this competition [this season]; we’re at 100 per cent.”
However, the Italian’s demeanour was far from relaxed and pressure is indeed mounting not only on Ancelotti, but on the entire club. With Barcelona and even Atletico having claimed more trophies than Real in recent seasons, president Florentino Perez still failing to come good on his promise of making Madrid Europe’s elite team on the pitch, and no Champions League crown since 2002 despite huge investment in that time, the spotlight shines ever brighter upon the Santiago Bernabeu side.
“We are going to build a spectacular team that will be a point of reference in world football,” Perez announced as he returned to the presidency in 2009. And arguably, that has been achieved – albeit without the trophies.
That was what Jose Mourinho was brought in to achieve, but after victory in the Copa del Rey and then success in La Liga in his second season, Madrid fell short last term as in-fighting and poor performances saw the Portuguese’s polemic tenure end in disappointment.
So Florentino was left to start all over again and Ancelotti was the man he chose to lead what he hoped would be his most successful project to date.
Madrid spent big by bringing in Gareth Bale for €100 million and a number of other expensive recruits, such as Isco and Asier Illarramendi. Later, in September, Cristiano Ronaldo renewed his contract in an expensive deal and Perez proudly predicted: “We’ll win La Decima with Cristiano.”
This term represents another opportunity for Real, yet the nature of their defeat at home to Barcelona will worry fans of the capital club ahead of a possible match-up with either the Catalans or favourites Bayern Munich later in the competition. Because other than an under-strength Atletico team in the Copa del Rey and a Juventus side that underperformed in Europe, Madrid have disappointed against the top teams in 2013-14.
So the jury is out and the pressure is on. Ancelotti is likely to keep his job even if Madrid end the season empty-handed, but Florentino’s credit is running out fast following years of under-achievement and many madridistas will remember the mistakes of the first Perez project, when the ultra-successful and even more popular Vicente del Bosque was inexplicably axed in favour of Carlos Queiroz.
Madrid subsequently fell into decline and failed to win a major trophy in the rest of the Florentino mandate, with the president eventually resigning in 2005.
Returning amid much fanfare in 2009, Perez promised he had learned from his previous errors, yet five seasons on and Madrid are no nearer their goal of dominating Europe.
With two Champions League crowns claimed at AC Milan and another final appearance in his time at San Siro, Ancelotti would still seem to be the right man for the job, but time is a rare commodity at the Bernabeu and the side’s investment and results over the last decade – along with the spectacular success enjoyed by Barcelona in that period – all mean Madrid simply cannot afford another trophyless season this time around.
Follow Ben Hayward on