Real Madrid: Carlo Ancelotti is the GOAT at working with attackers

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

After Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit, Real Madrid’s attack looked worse than ever. Apart from Karim Benzema, who had stepped up his game to another level, no other attacker was able to take responsibility and reduce the burden on Karim Benzema’s shoulders. During the 2019/20 season, Sergio Ramos, a centre-back, was the club’s second-highest goalscorer.

People saw Kylian Mbappe, an attacker who has been perennially linked to Real Madrid throughout his career, as the only hope to rejuvenate Real Madrid’s attack. But the club couldn’t succeed in signing him last summer, with the overconfident PSG denying Madrid’s advances.

Fans were gearing up to see another season of a Benzema carry-job, while the rest of the attackers fail to step up. But no one was prepared to see the new manager Carlo Ancelotti change things at Real Madrid.

In these nine months, Carlo Ancelotti didn’t change the Real Madrid situation completely, but he brought a lot of changes. He has won a trophy already and is in the race for two more, but his biggest achievements so far have been transforming Vinicius Jr into a complete attacker with a definite end product, and making Benzema an unstoppable goalscorer.

This season definitely reminds all the football fans of something about Carlo Ancelotti. Wherever he goes, he never fails to bring out the best in his attackers. In his career that has lasted over three decades, this is something that he has always proven. Let us have a trip down memory lane, and see how he has become the GOAT at working with attackers.

In his three seasons with Real Madrid, it has been a goal-fest for the attackers

Carlo Ancelotti was under contract with Everton in June 2021, but Florentino Perez contacted the Italian. He couldn’t help but leave the job in England and rush to the Spanish capital, simply because the offer was from Real Madrid and he couldn’t say no. During his presentation in Valdebebas, he promised “intense and spectacular football”, while also hoping to be able to repeat the success in his first spell. The actual silverware is yet to be won, and I highly doubt if he was able to put on an exhibition of spectacular football on a consistent basis.

But one thing’s for sure, he was able to execute the goalscoring part of the spectacular football part, with the team having scored 98 goals in all competitions this season, with a minimum of 8 games remaining in the season. This is no record, but this is a huge upgrade from the 88 goals scored last season. And the attackers this season have scored 73 goals this season, which is around 74.5% of all goals and is a massive improvement from last season’s 59% (52 out of 88 goals).

The personnel has been pretty much the same, but the operation has been different and there’s an improvement in everyone’s numbers. Karim Benzema has got 39 goals and 13 assists to his name, and he is currently the player with the most G+A in Europe. The best part is Vini Jr’s evolution though. The Brazilian attacker, who got just 6 goals and 7 assists last season, has 17 goals and 17 assists to his name this season. That’s quite a remarkable turnaround and Ancelotti definitely deserves credit for Vini’s transformation, something that has been explained well by my colleague Kevin. Marco Asensio has turned into a super-sub who gives you goals off the bench, hitting double figures in goals for the first time after the 2017/18 season. Rodrygo’s numbers aren’t really the best, but his 4 goals and 9 assists are definitely a valuable contribution, with three of those goals coming in the Champions League.

This is definitely an upgrade from last season’s attacking numbers, but these aren’t even close to what Carlo Ancelotti’s attackers had produced in the Italian’s first tenure as Real Madrid’s manager. It was in his first season at Real Madrid in 2013/14 during which the famous BBC attacking trio of Gareth Bale (B), Karim Benzema (B) and Cristiano Ronaldo (C) had originated, following the Welshman’s world-record signing. 

Real Madrid, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema
Real Madrid, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images) /

The numbers these three Real Madrid legends produced during Carlo Ancelotti’s two seasons were absolutely astonishing. The trio had scored 97 goals together in 2013/14, winning the La Decima and a Copa Del Rey title on the way, and these numbers were outrageous. The chemistry between these three attackers was brilliant, and their pace on the break was unmatchable. Maybe the trio were upset that they didn’t hit the 100-goal mark in 2013/14, that’s why scored 100 goals together in the 2014/15 season.

Carlo Ancelotti had world-class talent at his disposal, but still, a lot depended on the way he would use them and he used them to perfection. Real Madrid’s greatest goalscorer of all time broke a lot of records under Ancelotti, scoring 112 goals and assisting 47 more in 101 games he had played under the Italian. 169 goal contributions at a rate of 54.9 minutes per goal contribution, winning two Ballon D’or’s while Ancelotti was at the helm. We don’t know how Ancelotti managed one of the greatest players of all time (greatest, in my opinion), but one thing’s for sure, Cristiano Ronaldo loved life under Ancelotti, something which is visible from his statements about how he missed Ancelotti and how he would love to play under him again.  

If you think making BBC tick was the only thing Carlo Ancelotti had done, you are wrong. His tactics brought the best out of every attacker. Ancelotti couldn’t use a world-class playmaker like Mesut Ozil because of the German international’s departure to Arsenal as soon as Ancelotti arrived, but he converted Angel Di Maria into a midfielder, using him as an attack-minded midfielder in a trio that included Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric. The Argentine had the best season of his career in 2013/14, scoring 11 goals and assisting 25 more. Ancelotti brought the best out of players like Isco, Jese, and Alvaro Morata as well, as the trio scored a combined 28 goals in 2013/14.

Unfortunately, Ancelotti couldn’t keep Angel Di Maria for the next season, but he got the new signing and 2014 World Cup star James Rodriguez in return. And boy, it didn’t take long for a strong bond to form between, Ancelotti and James, something that was visible at Everton last season as well. James had a manager who trusted him more than anything, and this enabled the Colombian to have the season of his life, getting 17 goals and 18 assists. Even Isco and Chicharito had a fruitful season in 2014/15, getting 19 G+A and 18 G+A respectively.

Ancelotti was sacked after this season as Real Madrid ended trophyless, but the Italian did leave his mark. And now he has returned to the club to take off from where he left. Though his plans haven’t been executed well and he has committed a lot of mistakes this season, it has still been a great season for him, as Real Madrid has a 15 point lead at the top of LaLiga’s table with just 6 games to go, and are in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.

This attacking record itself is enough to talk about the legendary management and attacking tactics of Carlo Ancelotti. His attacking tactics were flexible and suited the kind of players he had at those clubs. He gave his attackers freedom and showed faith in them, which made the players play with a confident approach. He capitalised on the foundation laid by Jose Mourinho, and with his fixes and counter-attacking tactics, he made Real Madrid’s attack a well-oiled machine.

Carlo Ancelotti’s attackers were exceptional at his past clubs, too

As I’ve mentioned previously, Carlo Ancelotti is a highly experienced manager and he has coached a lot of big clubs. Let us have a look at his record at other big clubs.

Carlo Ancelotti’s first big club was Juventus, where he worked from 1999 to 2001. In his first season, Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero scored 42 and 21 goals respectively, while David Trezeguet also had a 15-goal season and Darko Kovacevic had a 20-goal-season in 1999/00 and 2000/01 respectively.

His next club was AC Milan, where he spent a total of 8 seasons and won two Champions League titles, attackers had one hell of a time. Filippo Inzaghi moved from Juventus to Milan before Ancelotti was appointed as Milan’s manager in November and was a part of Carlo’s 8 seasons at Milan. In those eight seasons, he registered 110 goals and 30 assists and formed a great duo with Andriy Shevchenko. Inzaghi’s 110 goals included a 30 goal season in 2002/03, a season that was capped off with a Champions League title. The Ukrainian Shevchenko had even better numbers, scoring 103 goals and 34 assists in his two Milan spells under Ancelotti, including a breakout 29 goal season in 2003/04. Players like Rivaldo, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Alberto Gilardino, Alexandre Pato, and Hernan Crespo also managed to register great attacking numbers in those early years of Ancelotti at Milan.

But the real deal was a youngster called Ricardo Kaka, who was slowly improving season by season in Milan and then took the world by a storm by becoming a Ballon D’Or winner. Kaka can be called Carlo Ancelotti’s best-coached player, as he saw the player grow from a talented youngster to the best player in the world, and was a part of his journey. In Kaka’s six seasons at Milan under Don Carlo, he registered a mammoth 95 goals and 84 assists, including a highly successful 2006/07 season which saw him become the focal point of the attack and claim 10 goals and 4 assists in a trophy-laden Champions League campaign.

Ancelotti’s next club was Chelsea, where players like Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard exploded and scored 37 goals and 24 goals respectively in a Premier League winning season, with Drogba having his best season ever at Chelsea. Even Florent Malouda and Nicholas Anelka scored a total of 60 goals together in Ancelotti’s two seasons at Chelsea. And in his next stop at PSG, players like Nene, Javier Pastore, and Kevin Gameiro had a great time, scoring a combined 55 goals in 2011/12.  And in 2012/13 entered the legend, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as he scored a mammoth 35 goals and assisted 17 more in the season.

Then came Real Madrid, and after that Bayern Munich. Carlo’s Bayern spell wasn’t really one worth remembering but his team played a fantastic brand of football. Robert Lewandowski had a 43-goal season, and the legendary Arjen Robben had a great season with 30 goal contributions. His spell at Napoli wasn’t any different, as Arkadiusz Milik, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne all had a season with 20+ goal contributions each in Carlo Ancelotti’s only full season.

In the 2020/21 season, Everton fans couldn’t witness Ancelotti’s attacking mania live in the stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but from their homes, they could see Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison on fire, with the duo scoring 21 and 13 goals respectively. Even the club’s marquee signing James Rodriguez registered 15 G+A, despite struggling with injuries.

During his career, the clubs changed. Club philosophies changed. Players changed. Environments changed. But one thing didn’t change. That one common thing was the attackers putting on a show under Carlo Ancelotti, and the proper execution of the Italian manager’s ultra-attacking tactics. This shows us only one thing. Carlo Ancelotti is the undisputed GOAT at working with attackers.

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This attacking brilliance is mainly due to Carlo Ancelotti’s excellent management, proper tactical implementation, and of course, due to his own personality. He has always been a friendly manager who makes the players feel happy and secure in his presence. He is simply the ultimate player’s manager!