In recent years, Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid have been immune to the challenges that have come with major games. This is a side that does not fear the biggest occasions, mainly because their manager does not allow it. Ancelotti has his system, his players, and his philosophy. There are tweaks — there have to be some — but no rival has brought about drastic change.
That is, until Sunday. Ancelotti had a rare tactical blip in one of his poorer days as Madrid manager, setting up a puzzling system that saw his side battered on the break by an eager Atletico team who ran out 3-1 winners in the Madrid derby.
The troubles were clear early on as Atletico embarked on a sweeping move down the left wing, with Samuel Lino afforded the time to reflect on the necessary angles, peer into the open space available to him, and deliver a whipped cross that Alvaro Morata simply nodded home.
Atletico added a second shortly after. This one came down the same wing with Saul, enjoying something of a revival after a forgettable loan spell at Chelsea, finding Antoine Griezmann, who rose from the penalty spot, entirely unmarked, to put his team 2-0 up. The third was nearly identical. Saul delivered the pass again for Morata to creep into a yard of space to evade three static Madrid defenders.
And those three crucial moments decided the contest. Ancelotti played five midfielders and no real striker, put Jude Bellingham on the wing, and asked a 38-year-old Luka Modric to start for the second game in a row. The Madrid attack was as discombobulated as expected, the only goal coming from a 20-yard Toni Kroos effort.
Changes did eventually come late in the game, Ancelotti abandoning his new system in favour of the 4-4-2 diamond that had handed Madrid a perfect start to the season. But his mishaps had done their damage, Madrid slumping to a derby loss to the tune of a tactical and defensive nightmare.
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