Ancelotti returns to Real Madrid: Zidane comparisons, goals galore and the Ronaldo effect

By Sports Desk June 02, 2021

For Carlo Ancelotti, the lure of Real Madrid proved too good to turn down. Again.

A first full season in charge at Everton had resulted in a 10th-place finish in the Premier League, though there was no sign of the Italian doing anything other than planning for the future at Goodison Park during the close-season.

Then, however, Zinedine Zidane left Madrid and everything changed. In a flash, Ancelotti is now back in the Spanish capital six years after Los Blancos said 'thanks, but no thanks', ending a first stint in charge that spanned two eventful years and included a historic Champions League triumph.

"What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know," club president Florentino Perez said when announcing Ancelotti's exit in 2015. The pair parted ways as work colleagues but the personal relationship remained intact, allowing them to come back together again.

Perez opted to dispense with Ancelotti despite him delivering 'La Decima', as well as the Copa del Rey and FIFA Club World Cup. He also boasted the best success rate of any head coach to be at Madrid for a minimum of 50 games at 74.8 per cent, winning 89 of his 119 games. That number eclipses Jose Mourinho (71.9 per cent) and comfortably Zidane, too (65.4 per cent).

However, there was no league title the first time around. Now the former Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss gets another crack at conquering LaLiga, with Los Blancos aiming to knock noisy neighbours Atletico Madrid off their perch.

Attack the best form of defence

There will be some familiar faces in the dressing room to greet Ancelotti upon his return, but also some notable absentees from the squad he left behind.

Across his previous reign, Madrid averaged 2.7 goals per game. That number was aided by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, the club's all-time leading scorer now taking up residence in Turin.

In LaLiga, Ancelotti's side led the way in terms of goals, getting 104 in 2013-14 and then 118 in the following campaign, eight more than a Barcelona squad led by Luis Enrique that clinched a famous treble. His Madrid averaged 18.1 shots per game – the same number as Zidane's side during his first stint – with a conversion rate of 14.9 per cent.

The Frenchman's time between January 2016 and May 2018 sees similarities in terms of attacking numbers to the period under Ancelotti, the common denominator being they both had the irrepressible Ronaldo to call upon.

Zidane's comeback saw a different Madrid, one that attempted more passes – they averaged out at 596.5 per game, compared to 576 previously – but dipped in terms of attacking output, their goals-per-outing number dropping from 2.6 to 1.8.

There was an over-reliance on Karim Benzema in 2020-21, the French striker scoring 23 times in the league. No other Madrid squad member reached double figures, Casemiro next on six. Well, Gareth Bale did, though that was during a year on loan at Tottenham.

Ancelotti may struggle to match the offensive numbers of his previous version of Madrid, but he is acutely aware of what is expected from his team.

"The history of this club forces you to play well and have a spectacular game. I believe that football has changed in these years towards a more organisational approach, but the idea of ​​Real Madrid must remain the same," he told the media.

The same Ancelotti, only different

"This is not the same Carlo Ancelotti from six years ago. I have six more years of experience. Positive and negative. I was very happy at Everton and I have grown as a person and as a coach."

Those were the words of the man himself at a news conference on Wednesday which covered a number of topics, including Sergio Ramos' future, the potential arrivals of Kylian Mbappe and Ronaldo, plus the open letter released by the man he has now replaced.

Ancelotti's appointment at Everton was seen as a coup for the Merseyside club and while there were high points during his reign, including a long-awaited win at Anfield (one of 11 away victories in 2020-21), but inconsistent results at home sunk hopes of securing European football, with a resounding 5-0 defeat to Premier League champions Manchester City ultimately bookending the 61-year-old's tenure.

Still, Ancelotti averaged 1.53 points per game, better than any other previous Everton boss to have at least 10 games in charge, including David Moyes (1.50) and Ronald Koeman (1.47), who – if reports are to be believed – will be staying on at Barca, meaning the Toffees will have been coached by both men in charge for next season's Clasico contests.

However, it is Atleti who are the top team in Spain. Diego Simeone's side faltered with the line in sight, but still managed to finish first in a title race that had seemed set to be a procession at one stage during the campaign.

LaLiga is the solitary title in the top five European leagues to so far evade Ancelotti, who knows better than anyone that not even on-pitch success is always enough to keep you in one of the biggest jobs in football.

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    Greg Dyke was a newly appointed chairman of the English Football Association (FA) when he declared in a famous 2013 speech: "English football is a tanker that needs turning."

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    A questionable choice?

    It was not Dyke who selected Southgate after Roy Hodgson's four-year reign ended and successor Sam Allardyce lasted just one game, an ill-fated choice.

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    Southgate made 426 Premier League appearances in his playing career – more than anyone else with zero appearances off the bench. He was therefore not used to being deployed as a substitute, but on this occasion he accepted the chance to step in as a replacement.

    His credibility for the England post had been questioned, with former Tottenham and West Ham boss Harry Redknapp dismissive of the notion that Southgate would know all about the English system.

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    Egyptian striker Mido, who played under Southgate at Middlesbrough, tweeted: "I can't believe that in England they are talking about @GarethSouthgate to become the new Manager!! I hope he learned since the @Boro days!!"

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    From scaredy cats to roaring lions

    Dyke said Roy Hodgson's England were "just scared" as they lost to Iceland at the Euro 2016 last-16 stage, heading home humiliated by relative minnows. Hodgson promptly resigned.

    "It's the same in all sport," Dyke said. "Really talented sportsmen can just freeze. That's what happens."

    After the Allardyce interlude came Southgate's appointment as a caretaker coach, and British bookmakers swiftly rated him favourite to keep the job on a permanent basis, ranking Steve Bruce, Alan Pardew, Eddie Howe and Hoddle as next in line on the list of likely candidates.

    As well as having managed the England Under-21 team, Southgate also previously held the role of head of elite development at the FA. Jenas might not have liked it, but getting not only a foot in the door, but both feet and an office to call his own, and the respect of a young generation of rising stars, made Southgate an obviously worthy candidate.

    Wins over Malta and Scotland, and draws with Slovenia and Spain, earned Southgate an interview for the permanent post, and he impressed a selection panel that featured FA chief executive Martin Glenn, technical director Dan Ashworth and chairman Greg Clarke – Dyke's successor – to the point he was handed the job permanently on November 30, 2016.

    Southgate has been a revelation: England reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, losing out to Croatia, before surging through to the Euro 2020 title match, a first major final since Bobby Moore led the team to World Cup glory.

    Along the way, the man who was a scapegoat for England's Euro 96 exit, when he missed a crucial semi-final shoot-out penalty against Germany, has become a national treasure.

    "Southgate, you're the one" sing England fans nowadays, while his uptake of a waistcoat on the touchline became a symbol of stylistic significance at the World Cup in Russia, sparking a rush of high street sales and analysis by the fashion media.

    The England boss told the BBC: "If you had said to the players when I started at Crystal Palace that I was going to be upheld as the sartorial model for the country, you'd have been hooted out of the training ground."

    How has he developed a new England?

    Once Southgate was handed the job permanently, he was able to outline his manifesto. "When I played, particularly in 1996, there were captains through the team that were captains of their club," he said.

    The England starting XI for the fateful Iceland game in 2016 contained one club captain: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. For the team's most recent game, the 10-0 drubbing of San Marino, Southgate named a defensive unit consisting of three club skippers: Aston Villa's Tyrone Mings, Wolves' Conor Coady and Manchester United's Harry Maguire.

    Harry Kane captains England but not his club, Tottenham. Southgate rates him as a leader par excellence. Jordan Henderson has built up years of experience in skippering Liverpool and is another England regular and vice-captain of the team.

    In terms of leadership, England have no shortage of on-field generals, the ideal complement to their burgeoning crop of talented, freewheeling youngsters. This is entirely deliberate.

    Southgate also declared he wanted a team "that excites the public, that the supporters like watching and are proud of".

    A competitive record of 44 wins, 14 draws and 10 defeats in 68 games gives him a winning record of 64.7 per cent. Of England managers with more than one game in charge, that is second only to Fabio Capello's 66.7 per cent (42 games, 28 wins, eight draws, six defeats). World Cup winner Ramsey achieved a 61.1 per cent win record from 113 games.

    Southgate has explored his options and given debuts to 50 players, the most since Bobby Robson, who handed first caps to 64 players during his eight-year tenure.

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    Others seem likelier to go down as one-cap wonders, such as Dominic Solanke, Nathan Redmond, Jack Cork and Lewis Cook. But Southgate has rewarded players in form, cultivating an open-door policy within the England camp that can only be healthy.

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    "Can we not knock it?"

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    England perhaps still have some catching up to do, but Southgate is shifting the culture significantly.

    This can be examined through the prism of World Cup qualifiers – Southgate's first campaign leading up to the 2018 tournament, and his latest, which saw England ease into the hat for next year's finals. In both campaigns, England played 10 games, winning eight times and drawing twice.

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    They are achieving more high turnovers too, going from 82 in 2018 World Cup qualifying to 111 in their quest to reach Qatar 2022. In that aspect, England have jumped from ninth to third in Europe.

    Hodgson's Euro 2016 squad contained players plucked exclusively from the Premier League, with his 23-man group including stars from 11 clubs.

    Southgate's 26-strong Euro 2020 party contained representatives of 16 teams, including Trippier from Atletico Madrid and Bellingham and Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund. Gone, for now, are the days of England squads being dominated by players from a small group of clubs.

    Making Dyke's vision a reality

    The acid test comes at major tournament level, and to date Southgate's England are showing up on the big stage – at least until it comes to the crunch. They stood widely accused in both the Croatia semi-final and the Italy final of retreating into their shell, having taken the lead early in each game and then failed to build on the strong start.

    That is something Southgate must address and surely will. This is a technically gifted England now, with a coach who has brought more sophistication to the role than many expected.

    All that being said, there are still aspects of England's play that perhaps hark back to bygone days. They played 391 long passes at Euro 2020, more than any other side, although this should not be a serious concern given that was only marginally more than champions Italy (363), and semi-finalists Denmark (340) and Spain (339) were not lagging far behind.

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    They hit 125 of these in the Euros, with the Czech Republic next on the list with 96. Just 27 of England's launches were judged to be successful, and Southgate may reflect on the fact Italy played just 52 such hit-and-hopes on their way to the title.

    There is always learning to be done, advances to be achieved. Such data will be monitored by England, with a view to sculpting a winning tactical model in time for next November.

    "I like Gareth Southgate, he's a great lad, but what's he done?" was Harry Redknapp's question five years ago.

    Turns out, rather a lot in a short space of time. The tanker has turned.

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