Statistical analysis - Carlo Ancelotti back at Real Madrid: Historia que hiciste, historia por hacer
On 1st June 2021, Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as Real Madrid manager for a second time, becoming just the ninth coach to come back to coach the Concha Espina club, joining the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Vicente del Bosque, Fabio Capello and Zinedine Zidane, to name a few. He had a first spell between 2013 and 2015 with highs and lows, where Real Madrid could finally reach and win the Champions League final after a drought of 12 years. The lows came in LaLiga, where in both seasons with Ancelotti at the wheel, Los Blancos blew a lead over Atlético in the first season and Barcelona in the second. That bad stretch at the end of the 2014/15 season ended in a semi-final loss to Juventus in Europe and the sacking of Ancelotti on 25th May.
Even though Real Madrid didn’t achieve their objectives in his final season, the fanbase and the players were against Ancelotti’s sacking. A few months prior to that, the Italian had led the team through the biggest winning streak in Real Madrid’s history at 22 consecutive games. That team was built to rely on attack, with quick transitions from midfield and generating a lot of goal-creating chances. The 4-0 victory over Bayern in Munich and the 3-1 win against Barcelona at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu are the perfect examples of this vertical style of play inherited from Jose Mourinho’s reign.
The relationship between the Italian and Real Madrid could be considered a success even before his return. Of all the teams Ancelotti has coached, he has the best winning percentage at the Bernabéu with 77% in his first season and 73% in his second. His most famous run was with AC Milan, where in his best season he could only reach 67%, the same he currently has in this second stint at Real Madrid.
However, instead of comparing his numbers to the previous run, he is often compared to Zidane Zidane’s final years as Real Madrid manager. Zizou was Ancelotti’s second in command in his first season at Chamartín, so they both share a lot of fundamental values in the building of a squad.
They both share a long past in Italy, known for its tendency towards defensive play. If we compare advanced metrics for both coaches, the graphic shows they share a lot in common: how they use the team to pressure in defence, midfield and attack, the passes per defensive action they allow the opposing team and the tackles from which they get the ball back.
However, the main difference comes in interceptions per game. Zidane preferred a high pressuring block, often launched by the midfield from Toni Kroos or Luka Modrić. Ancelotti, on the other hand, has used a midfield pressuring block this season, where the offensive, midfield and defensive lines are closer to each other, so it’s easier to intercept the ball when the opposing team is progressing the ball.
Some of the headlines that Ancelotti’s side have attracted this season focus more on the team he’s building in Madrid, not in the star power Zidane’s team had. He has also found the way to get the best from some of his players, as the offensive comparison will show more graphically.
Here’s a look at Real Madrid 2020/21 and 2021/22 in the offensive side of the game. Both teams average quite similar numbers in xG and xA per 90 minutes, so they both generate the same number of quality chances coming from the same number of quality passes. They both also average the same number of sequences per game, with some subtle differences. Zidane’s squad was a bit slower in the build-up, probably due to the excessive use of the wings and the time it takes to produce a quality chance from those areas. Ancelotti’s build-up is slightly more direct and faster, focused on using the midfield as a way to launch the attack, not to connect the wings.
The main difference comes in the goal-creating actions per 90 minutes, where Real Madrid are excelling this season. Last year, they averaged 2.95 goal-creating actions per 90, ranking them 17th in Europe’s top five leagues, keeping company with the likes of AS Roma, Borussia Moenchengladbach and RB Leipzig. This season, Ancelotti has turned blown those figures away. Averaging 4.30 goal-creating actions per 90, Real Madrid are the fourth-best team in Europe’s top five leagues with only Inter Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich ahead of them.
Ancelotti has turned a good offensive team into a great offensive team by giving some players the confidence they needed to perform at a level never seen before, like Vinícius Júnior or Karim Benzema, both producing the best numbers of their careers. Here’s a graphic that shows how the same players are being much more efficient and productive in their offensive performance.
This confidence Real Madrid’s forwards are playing with is reflected by how often they are poaching to score from inside the six-yard box. Last year, based on the quality of their chances, they should have scored 21.49 goals and they scored 15 with an under performance of 6.49 xG goals. This season on the other hand, they should have scored 4.71 goals and they´ve actually scored seven, that’s an over performance of 2.29 xG goals.
Without changing anything drastically, Ancelotti has refreshed the whole team, building on what the squad already had from Zidane, as he did in 2013 with Mourinho’s foundation. That’s what great coaches do. He has the confidence of the squad, the president, the fanbase and the press, so expect this team to be establish themselves as favourites to win LaLiga this season and to compete with the very best in Europe.
When it comes to Ancelotti in Madrid, as the Real Madrid anthem says: “Historia que tú hiciste, historia por hacer / History you've made, history to make”.
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