Real Madrid need to stop experimenting against Barcelona

David Ramos

Real Madrid's imbalanced side gives them an immediate disadvantage against Barcelona, and Carlo Ancelotti will need to find his best side quickly.

If you're having trouble predicting what team Real Madrid are going to send out against Barcelona on Saturday's Clasico, then you can at least take solace in the fact that you're not employed to be doing exactly that. The hundreds of thousands of Euros a week probably offer some comfort, but it seems that Carlo Ancelotti is equally in the dark about what his best team is.

It's an old conundrum for Real Madrid, and one they should've learned to avoid by now - attempting to fit too many attacking stars into a first eleven. Ancelotti has been moving players around in various experimental lineups - before Mesut Ozil's departure, there was the prospect of a Christmas tree formation with Cristiano Ronaldo and the now-Arsenal-based playmaker behind the striker. Since then, Isco, Illaramendi, Luka Modric and others have appeared all over the place in several lineups as Ancelotti tries to find the right balance.

So far, he's failed. The team have been doing quite well, but Illaramendi and Isco are never going to be solid enough to go into big games with and expect a degree of control. Even Xavi and Andres Iniesta need a Yaya Toure or Sergio Busquets covering for them - Real's duo may well one day be at the same level, but the current system is a disaster waiting to happen.

"He doesn't know his best team" is one of those football clichés that, since the nineties, has ceased to exist at the top level of the game, in the age of larger squads and rotation. But Ancelotti doesn't seem to know what any of his teams are, or how he wants them to play, or how to get the best out of his individuals, let alone any combinations that may prove to be more than the sum of their parts. It's been the main difference between them and Barcelona in recent years, and it's no coincidence that Jose Mourinho matched their rivals when he addressed that exact problem.

Part of the problem also comes from the fact that Real Madrid sold too few players in the summer. Their squad is too large to keep everybody happy - Sami Khedira would be a good option for one of the two midfielders, but he isn't playing, yet Madrid refused to sell him in the summer. Xabi Alonso's injury made it difficult to move him on, and while Angel Di Maria may be an excellent player, the purchase of Gareth Bale makes him superfluous. There is never going to be a way to fit all of these players into the same system, with Luka Modric also finding game time harder to come by.

By now, Ancelotti really should have figured things out, and doing so immediately before a Clasico leaves him with a choice of two poor options: send out an imbalanced side, or send out a side that have barely played together. That gives him a huge early disadvantage, although it may be the boot up the behind he needs to finally make a decision. There's no space for indecisiveness in such ferociously competitive title races, and already Ancelotti is struggling to match his predecessor. The music has stopped, and he needs to go with whatever he's decided.

*     *     *

Is it possible that Alex Ferguson is poking fun at Manchester United fans and the football establishment by just trying to come up with the most ridiculous reasons ever that he wasn't spending any money at the club? "He runs funny" is certainly up there with his best excuses as a reason for not signing Jordan Henderson.

It was equally ludicrous for Brendan Rodgers to demand an apology for such an offhand and trivial comment, and perhaps Ferguson might offer in response a reason he wasn't purchased probably even more truthful than him not having any money: that, for all his faults in addressing United's weaknesses in his latter years, the Scot is still a good judge of talent and deemed Henderson to be the clogger that he is.

With a couple of journalists and pundits backing up Rodgers' assertion, it's amusing to see people take jabs at Ferguson now his influence has waned with his retirement. It's also amusing to see that they're such weak efforts, and perhaps reveals quite a bit about how few difficult questions the man had been asked when it really mattered.

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