Ben Hayward: Ancelotti's Madrid lacking direction as Atletico confirms title credentials

The Santiago Bernabeu fans showed frustration at another derby defeat on Saturday, with some supporters even pining for Jose Mourinho as boos and jeers rang around the ground.
The honeymoon period is over for Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian coach suffered his first defeat at Real Madrid, and it arrived in the same manner as the last loss suffered by his predecessor Jose Mourinho: in a derby at home to Atletico Madrid.

The Bernabeu boos no doubt still ringing in his ears, Ancelotti admitted afterwards that Madrid still lack a clear strategy. The Italian is attempting to alter Los Blancos' style from a counterattacking ploy to a more patient, possession and passing philosophy. But it's not working at the moment.

Perhaps primitive, and certainly one-dimensional, Mourinho's Madrid was devastating and incredibly effective in full flow. And at least he had a plan. At the moment, it is often hard to tell exactly what Ancelotti's team is all about.

There was no love lost between the Bernabeu faithful and Mourinho following the Portuguese's ultimately inevitable summer exit, yet groups of supporters chanted the 50-year-old's name outside the stadium on Saturday evening.

Hours earlier, the Chelsea boss had been mocked by Tottenham fans in the London derby at White Hart Lane. "You're not 'Special' any more...," they gleefully sang.

Support from Spain will have been unexpected for Mourinho, but his Real rarely performed with such ineptitude as Ancelotti's side did on Saturday. Even in the derby defeat in the Copa del Rey final back in May, Madrid was the better team, struck the woodwork twice and should have won the game. Last night, Los Blancos were barely in it at all, with the midfield overrun, Cristiano Ronaldo isolated and the defense dreadful.

"We need to have a more clear idea of how to play," was Ancelotti's assessment. "The system is not a problem; the problem is the speed of our play - we need [better] movement."

Particularly poor in that respect was Karim Benzema, and Ancelotti amazed a disbelieving Bernabeu by taking off Isco and leaving the profligate Frenchman on for the entire 90 minutes. That decision brought boos and jeers aplenty, and the man who came on, Alvaro Morata, showed more determination, desire and enthusiasm than the France forward in his brief 18 minutes on the pitch.

Diego Costa also put Benzema's showing to shame with a typically wholehearted performance that included the only goal of the game, scored early on.

The Brazilian played with passion, and, so often on the edge, could have been sent off when he continued berating referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after a yellow card had been brandished in his direction. Indeed, only the intervention of Costa's teammates appeared to dissuade the official from producing a second card.

However, that is Diego Costa, and Madrid fans would love to see such a committed performer in their own side. Their loss, though, is Atletico's gain, and the Brazilian's strike was his eighth league goal of the season, putting him level in the Pichichi race with Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Even with Diego Costa, Atletico is a team without stars. Every man contributes to the collective strength of a side that has now won seven out of seven in La Liga this term. Koke, David Villa, Diego Godin, Gabi, Juanfran, Filipe Luis - Atletico had heroes all over the pitch.

"The players stood up," manager Diego Simeone said. "From the first to the 18th [of those called up], we knew there was only one option: and that was to win the game. The economic power [of Barcelona and Madrid] is superior to the rest, [but] we have our weapons and we try to give our lives in every game."

Sat alongside Barca at the top of the table, Atletico must now be considered a genuine title contender. Simeone's side made the Catalans look ordinary over two games in the Spanish Supercopa and have now defeated its city rival at the Bernabeu twice in a row, having not triumphed previously on derby day since 1999.

Real Madrid could learn much from its rival's impressive intensity, while Ancelotti needs a proper plan. The supposed switch from a counterattacking ploy to a more technical and possession philosophy is, in theory, a step up, but, at the moment, this team is neither one thing nor the other. The Bernabeu has made its first feelings heard. Ancelotti has been warned.

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