How times change. Sometimes time turns the table 180 degrees and sometimes to a complete 360. In the context of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, the tables have turned 180 degrees. No longer are the Rojiblancos the punching bags of their rich rivals. Indeed, if anything, Los Blancos find themselves in a position of brutal harassment whenever they play against their sibling nowadays.
For Carlo Ancelotti, however, the spinning wheel of time seems to have taken a complete rotation. After winning the domestic double with Chelsea in his debut season, everything seemed to go perfectly for the Italian tactician when Chelsea were raking wins with utmost ease at the beginning of his second season. And not just wins, dominating wins. Score-lines like 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 and so on were common for Chelsea. But the flying bird lost one of its wings and fell face-first.
By May, the former Milan boss was relieved of his duties by Roman Abramovich – who could be likened to Parashurama as he is known to always hold the axe and is ever ready to use it on his managers.
Ancelotti then went to PSG where he won two back-to-back league titles before joining Real. In his first year-and-a-half at the club, he won four trophies. Even more impressive was the way he started the second season – a European record of 22 straight wins that was put to a halt by Valencia. Since then it has been patchy for the Galacticos – some resemblance to Ancelotti's second season at Chelsea.
2015 hasn't started very well for him and his men. Gareth Bale hasn't been at his best for a long time, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't seem like the same player after breaking up with Irina Shayk, and injuries to key players and fatigue have been hindering Real's path to success.
The good news for Ancelotti is that his current squad is much better than the one he had at his disposal in London. Despite injuries to Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Sami Khedira, he still has a lot of talented players to choose from.
Enter Asier Illarramendi and Lucas Silva.
What Illaramendi and Silva can offer Real Madrid
Brazilian Lucas Silva was bought in the January transfer window from Cruzeiro. While Real Madrid fans are yet to see their new man in action, he has already become an important player for Ancelotti thanks to the injuries.
The young Brazilian is a very talented player and has all the playing qualities to become a star at Real Madrid. He plays at the base of midfield and going by his performances in Brazilian Serie A, ticks almost all the boxes that define a ‘complete’ player. He is a good ball-winner, a superb passer – be it long range or short – has great ball control, good pace and, most importantly, he is a two-touch player.
His ability to radiate possession within two touches is what made him the most coveted midfielder in the world prior to his move to Madrid. There are obviously aspects of his game which could be improved – like aerial duels and dribbling – but with his given skill-set, the chances of him succeeding are high.
However, being a star in the Brazilian league is completely different from playing in Europe. More so when it comes to Real Madrid, as mental strength is the defining factor of a player’s career at the club. And Silva’s mental strength can only be determined when he is played.
The Brazilian can take a look at and have a talk with Asier Illarramendi to know exactly what it is like to play for the Whites. The Basque player was signed in similar context with the Brazilian – after two superb seasons with Real Sociedad, Florentino Perez snapped him up to join the Spanish revolution for an astounding fee of €33 million.
So far, however, Illarramendi hasn’t lived up to his talent and the money paid for him. Like Silva, the former Sociedad man possesses great playing ability. His weaknesses are also similar to the Brazilian’s as he is not the best aerially despite being quite tall, and can’t dribble to save his life. Striking similarities, striking differences, different scenarios, but same objectives – to make a name at the club.
How Ancelotti can use Illaramendi and Silva
When Lucas Silva was signed, it was widely reported that the Spaniard would be shown the door and that he would most likely end up at Athetic Bilbao. Ancelotti confirmed that he indeed had the chance to leave and play for the Basque club, but he chose to stay at Real and fight for his place. Full marks for his Basque warrior spirit.
And now it is time for Carlo Ancelotti to show faith in those two players who have a point to prove. Silva is raring to go and so is Illarramendi. Both are highly talented and, most importantly, they both are desperate to make their names known.
Illarramendi is worth every penny Real Madrid paid for him and he can still become a great signing if given the chance. Against his former club in the 4-1 win earlier this month, ‘Illarra’ oozed class and looked like his former competent self on the pitch. Against Atletico Madrid, he was brought in as a substitute and unleashed a cracking shot full of venom – which was kept out with the help of some great acrobatic skills by goalkeeper Miguel Moya.
While Lucas Silva would want to show that he does have the mental strength to play for Real Madrid and make an immediate impact, Illarramendi has his reputation at stake – to show that he is worth the money paid for him. Talking in strict tactical terms, it is high time the Italian used something diverse. Real Madrid’s game has been found out – too much fluidity, that made them invincible at one point, has become the cause of their struggles.
Both Illarramendi and Silva add much-needed diversity to the system – they would definitely bring much more balance and steel. With James Rodriguez, Luka Modric and Sami Khedira out, Ancelotti’s hands are tied – he now has to play them.
The former PSG boss’ persistence with playing the same set of players and insisting that they were fully fit has gotten him into trouble – even though he won’t admit it. With the predictability in the current set-up, introducing Lucas Silva or Illarramendi would automatically change their style in a subtle manner.
Can Illaramendi and Silva be played with Kroos and Isco?
In fact, it would be wise for the Italian tactician to try them both at the same time, giving Toni Kroos some much-needed rest before the Champions League commences once again. Even if the former Bayern Munich man is played, he would get full freedom with the Brazilian and the Spaniard behind him – giving a whole new face to Real’s system.
The possibilities are intriguing. A midfield combination of Isco-Kroos-Illarra/Lucas, Kroos-Lucas-Illarramendi or Lucas-Isco-Illarramendi – these three different combinations represent three different playing styles. Although the chances of resting Kroos or Isco and playing both Illarramendi and Silva are very slim, Ancelotti could do a lot worse than not trying something different as that – especially against smaller teams.
Life is an open book. How we perceive things defines our life. Negative perception leads to negative thinking and a negative life. But the opposite is also true. James, Modric and Khedira’s absence could be taken in a negative context. However, there are more positives than people actually think. With all the absentees, Ancelotti will be forced to try something different – which was necessary given Real Madrid’s predictability.
The past should be used as a reference and nothing else. Living in the past is the worst thing a person could do – and Carlo Ancelotti must use these two players effectively if he is to avoid reliving the past once again.