Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has praised his side’s commitment to the defensive side of the game as they take a three-point lead atop La Liga into their trip across the Spanish capital to take on Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Madrid’s incredible run of form saw them take sole possession of top spot in the Primera Division last weekend, with their 3-0 win over Elche being followed by defeats for both Atletico and Barcelona. The scoring exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have grabbed the attention, not least when each of Madrid’s forward trio scored twice in a 6-1 victory at Schalke in the Champions League in midweek. But Madrid’s upturn in performances coincided with Ancelotti’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation that has given the side far more balance.
“My system is the one in which the players feel most comfortable and convinced -- not the one I might have in my head,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “The system has changed as the season has developed because at the start, we were without Xabi [Alonso] and [Asier] Illarramendi. The players feel comfortable now, not because I say so, that’s what they tell me.”
More than just a shift in systems, Ancelotti was quick to praise the work that his players have undertaken without the ball to give the side more defensive solidity.
“It’s the most important thing in football,” he explained. “Defensive work doesn’t require creativity or skill. You can quickly fix any mistakes and we’ve done that, not just by changing our system but also because the players now understand how important it is to recover possession. The squad is very able in carrying out defensive work. And we’re seeing the real Sergio Ramos now, not the player from November or December.”
While Madrid are on the up, Atletico’s season has stuttered of late. For the first time in recent weeks there have been signs of fatigue creeping into Diego Simeone’s relatively small squad. A 3-0 defeat to Osasuna was their fourth reversal in their last six matches. Two of those losses were against Real Madrid in both legs of their Copa del Rey semifinal. Still, while accepting Atletico’s limitations, Simeone believes that his side can cause the very best teams problems on one-off occasions.
“We know that, as a team, we are dangerous and competitive,” he said, reports AS. “We also know that, over 40 weeks, Real Madrid and Barca will be streets ahead of us but in the day-to-day, we feel very close to them”.
“When I first arrived, the first thing I said was that I wanted our team to be a nuisance. We’ve achieved that. By being a nuisance, I mean being competitive and letting our rivals know that to beat us, they will need to run three times as much as we do and work double. We are an uncomfortable team to face and our opponents know it.”
Simeone has no new injury worries with only midfielder Tiago and back-up right-back Javier Manquillo unavailable. Madrid have only long-term absentee Sami Khedira ruled out.
Where to watch: the Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.