When this pre-season began, Ancelotti again turned to the old story to enlighten him with Baggio and Zidane, the two footballers who changed his career as a coach. Real Madrid’s squad looked somewhat disfigured, at least with regard to the nine, which are still vacant. The team lost Karim Benzema, installed in Saudi Arabia, and Mariano, the substitute who ended up outside the pool of useful footballers. And only Joselo has arrived, a veteran of the youth team with a career that has recently blossomed as the national team’s top scorer at the age of 33. Ancelotti barely raised an eyebrow.
Most of the summer spending, 103m plus about 30 in variables, has been taken up by Judd Bellingham, a terrific 20-year-old midfielder. The Englishman has a goal, but it’s not a nine. Ancelotti’s problem seemed unsolvable: how to replace Benzema without anything resembling Benzema. And how to take advantage of Bellingham in a team that played by heart at 4-3-3. The Italian calmly recalled one of his most popular stories: “When I started training I had a clear idea and did not adapt to the players. I had an experience in Parma, where Baggio wanted to play as a midfielder, and I did not change the system. He went to another team. And he made a mistake. In Juventus with Zidane I began to understand that it is better to adapt to the players. “This year we may play with a different system. We will try it on the Tour, which is a good moment.”
Much of the practice days at UCLA’s facilities are devoted to preparing the new scheme, which the team tested in its first game of the preseason, Monday morning against AC Milan in the Rose Bowl (3-2 to Madrid with a double from Valverde and the last goal from Vinicius). It’s 4-4-2 with the Diamond and England midfielders up front, behind the forwards (Ibrahim and Joselu in the first half, Vinicius and Rodrygo in the second).
In the end, Ancelotti explained why he chose that drawing: “The best position for him is 10, because it gives him more chances and he’s closer to goal,” he said. He continued, “Because of his ability to enter the penalty area without the ball, Bellingham is the best option there.” “He moves very well without the ball and is different from our other midfielders. He has this quality of looking for space.”
The drawing highlighted the virtues of the Englishman, who in the first part was more than attacked, especially when he played with Brahim, a partnership that began to take shape in the first days of work at Valdebebas. Against Milan, on 64 minutes, Bellingham was the third player who touched the most balls, only behind Valverde, who played the entire match, and Kroos, who only participated in the first half.
He also left another display of his value in that hot spot between the lines behind the forwards. He was the best dribbler of the match: he tried it five times and four times successfully, more than anyone else. Even more than Vinicius, who in the forty-second minute single-handedly attempted eight dribbles and survived three times.
“I loved it,” Ancelotti said of the drawing test. “It is true that there are things we have to adjust a bit. It cost us starting from the back. We tried to play more inside than outside to take advantage of the match between the lines.”
This inside game is directly related to the drawing and leads to certain defensive weaknesses: “With the rhombus we have a lot of central pressure and a little less lateral pressure. We have to improve there,” explained Ancelotti. “Defensively, in my personal opinion, this is not the best system, but I have to adapt to the characteristics of the players.” Bellingham.