Manero

Ancelotti’s Half-Full Glass

By: Alfonso Duro

The one thing that Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, both loves and hates about Carlo Ancelotti is his patience. The Italian manager has made it a constant to remain calm under pressure and to show the best of his abilities when the going gets tough.

Look back at his celebration of Sergio Ramos’s goal in the Champions League final in Lisbon, and you will see that while the entire bench (and even Xabi Alonso, who was sitting in the stands) jumped on the field, Ancelotti barely flinched, and was quickly thinking of how to face the next 30 minutes of overtime.

In yesterday’s El Clásico, Real Madrid lost a great chance of turning the tables on FC Barcelona, as they could have gotten ahead on the scoreboard in the first half, but missing two or three clear chances is never the best way to beat your all-time rival. The Culés were a lot more effective, scoring in practically the first two chances they had, then holding down the fort when Luka Modrić took control of the match in the first 60 minutes.

In Ancelotti’s mind, his team may have lost a battle, but their performance against the Blaugranas could give them the chance to win the war.

LOOKING FOR MESSI, AGAIN. In spite of very strong showings during the last three months (which we betted on), La Pulga went back to his worst self—the erratic player he was during most of last year.

Playing on the right, from where he has single-handedly turned around many games in the last weeks, the Argentine lost his duel again and again against Marcelo, who in turn proved to be in great form and was, along with Modrić, the man of the match for Real Madrid.

Granted, Messi’s connection with Neymar and Suárez in the last third of the match became a real threat for the Merengues, but when your best player takes his first shot in the 73rd minute of the match, you know you have a problem.

Luis Enrique has forgone the identity and style of Barcelona, in exchange for a most precious good—victory. Some fans will not be happy at the metamorphosis suffered by the team, which has strangely lost control in the middle and given itself to depending on long balls and set plays. If, on top of that, Messi is not in it to win it, the result is an uglier Barcelona than we’ve come to know, but perhaps more effective.

GARETH BALE’S DARKEST NIGHT. While Real Madrid shone overall despite the defeat, there was one man who left Camp Nou having dug a deep hole for himself. Gareth Bale was far from his best form in Barcelona, and although the lack of options on the bench pushed Ancelotti to keep him on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, the Welsh winger had a terrible performance in El Clásico.

It’s becoming a bit of a running joke, but Gareth Bale’s season with Real Madrid is leaving a lot to be desired. In his second full year with the club, the expectation was that he would explode into the player that his price tag announced, but he is quite far from playing as well as he did in the last part of the previous season, and he is not even scoring the key goals that made him a legend last year.

Still, Bale has the full support of the club—namely Florentino Pérez—and his coach, who is tired of repeating that he will keep playing the Welshman in the starting team no matter what. Ultimately, Ancelotti is a pragmatic optimist, and he will not go against a “club mandate,” by singling out the most expensive player on his roster.

And it is that same optimism that makes Carlo Ancelotti, after losing El Clásico and trailing Barça by four points, still keep the faith in finishing off the season with a bang, and potentially lifting a trophy—regardless of whether that means sticking with Bale in the starting 11, or moving him to the bench when James Rodríguez recovers.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.