Real Madrid: Why Carlo Ancelotti should use a four-man midfield more often

Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

A few days back, I was wondering about the PSG game and how Real Madrid was constantly pressurized by Paris Saint-Germain to concede at Parc Des Princes. Was it a tactical failure? Did Real Madrid actually have a plan? Or was Real Madrid just hoping for a draw? I don’t think anyone outside the club has the answers to these questions. Well, we can’t change the past. But we have to move forward to see out what’s ahead. Los Blancos face Real Sociedad next, followed by a crucial PSG second leg, RCD Mallorca and the El Clasico.

The disappointing first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 has jeopardised Carlo Ancelotti’s future at the club and the manager will be looking forward to the second leg. But what will the Italian change in this team for that game?

One of the biggest setbacks for the team is the absence of Casemiro and Ferland Mendy following suspension due to the accumulation of yellow cards. To replace Ferland Mendy, Real Madrid has 3 options. Playing one of Marcelo, Miguel Gutierrez, or David Alaba. But what about Casemiro? To be honest, Real Madrid does not have a perfect replacement for Casemiro. Carlo Ancelotti has only two options for that. One of them is to play either Fede Valverde or Eduardo Camavinga in that position. And the second is to change the formation to a four-man midfield.

But, will the Italian change his preferred formation of 4-3-3 for the second leg? If yes, will he try that by implementing it in one of the previous matches? This is a question in the mind of many fans and I think that Carlo Ancelotti has already given a hint of it in the latest game against Rayo Vallecano.

It was not a direct hint, but it appeared that Carlo Ancelotti did make some changes to do some sort of experiments with the tactics and the formation. Firstly, following the substitution of Casemiro and Marco Asensio for Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes, Real Madrid stuck to the traditional 4-3-3 with Toni Kroos taking the number 6 role, while Valverde played more advanced as a box to box midfielder. Both the German and the Uruguayan had a decent game in that position.

After Real Madrid got the breakthrough in that formation, Carlo Ancelotti subbed off Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior for Dani Ceballos and Eduardo Camavinga, thus forming a 4-4-2. The new formation saw Valverde shift to the right and Camavinga to the left with Toni Kroos and Ceballos playing as double pivots and Karim Benzema and Rodrygo as the strikers.

This little experiment near the end of the game did raise a few eyebrows, but for good. Rayo only had these last few minutes to try and earn a point, but Real Madrid stood strong enough to defend them. Rather Los Blancos totally controlled the ball. The players had the ball and were basically playing it around in Rayo’s half itself.

Real Madrid, Casemiro
Real Madrid, Casemiro (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Its benefits to Real Madrid

The last game was one of the worst games Casemiro has had in a while. Earning a rating of 4.0, the Brazilian lost possession on multiple occasions and indulged in a challenge that should have actually sent him off, had he not been lucky to escape it. He has had some similar poor performances during the initial stages of the season and it has always come up to haunt Real Madrid. It is because Los Blancos is very dependent on him. Being a player of high quality, Casemiro is capable enough to fill large holes in the team’s defence, which usually takes 2 players to do that job.

So, when Casemiro has a bad game, it is as if you are playing without two key midfielders. Unlike the 2020/21 season when there was nothing to stop Casemiro, the 2021/22 season has made him suffer sometimes which has always looked bad for the club. I always used to fear how will Real Madrid operate in the absence of Casemiro and recently I found an answer to this.

Real Madrid is a team that does not like changes, especially the formational and tactical ones. Without a proper replacement for Casemiro, Real Madrid will need two midfielders to fill the holes and help the team press higher up the pitch.

Furthermore, everyone is used to watching the trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric. They all get tired and there is lesser energy in midfield. In a 4-4-2, we can play Kroos and Modric in a double pivot role, creating chances from the back, and have Fede Valverde on the right and Camavinga (or Vinicius) on the left to inject some energy in the midfield.

Real Madrid, Fede Valverde
Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images) /

Its benefits to the players

Apart from the tactical changes, it will be very beneficial to the players as well, especially the youngsters. There are many different combinations of playing an 11 in this (let’s leave that topic for another article) and this is a formation that requires inputs from the players.

Having youngsters like Vinicius Junior, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo is very beneficial to the team. These are very energised players who can play some very good counter-attacking football. Unlike Marco Asensio, Rodrygo is very quick. Even though Marco Asensio is a player who has improved a lot under Carlo Ancelotti, Rodrygo is much suited for this formation. He can help in the defence and can run errands to help the team transition from defending to attacking real quick. This will help Real Madrid balance its attacking threat from both the flanks than just the left flank (which has been the case so far this season).

Secondly, it is a formation that will help many fans get a chance to watch Luka Jovic and Karim Benzema play together. Now, we all have seen that Luka Jovic is a multi-talented youngster. He can drop back to combine with the teammates or play as a poacher, sticking to the opposition’s backline and pressuring them with forwarding runs. He is not a player with the speed of Rodrygo or Vinicius but is rather tough enough to guard the ball with his bodily strength (as seen in his assist to Vinicius against Real Sociedad). Moreover, his strength and aerial dominance allow him to cash in on the crosses inside the box.

Having a player with such strength and presence in the box can help Karim Benzema roam in the midfield more freely and actually has someone to assist him inside the box, than getting bullied by the 4-5 defenders who gather around him in the box.

Apart from this, a four-man midfield can also create a 4-3-1-2 formation which can help Carlo Ancelotti allocate either Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, or Isco as an advanced midfielder to assist the two forwards centrally. It is high time for the Italian to start trusting Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, and better not snub them when the two are needed the most and when they can help Real Madrid succeed in this formation.

Next. 3 Players benefiting the most from Ancelotti. dark

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This is a formation with a lot of benefits and can actually prove pretty useful to Real Madrid in the future, especially in the absence of Casemiro.