The signings of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez give Real Madrid almost too many options. Michael Lintorn tries picking their best XI...
"Unless Ancelotti can convince Ronaldo to play up front, creating space for both James and Bale on the wings, a switch to 4-2-3-1 appears the easiest way to squeeze their most illustrious players into the same team."
Some clubs, naming no Inters, take a breather after winning the Champions League, believing their squad-building work to be done.
Such an attitude was never likely to befall obsessively ambitious Real Madrid after their first triumph in 12 years. Instead, they spent almost £100 million on three World Cup protagonists: Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Germany midfielder Toni Kroos and Colombia hero James Rodriguez.
The result is a squad so loaded with quality that they are fancied in all six competitions that they enter. They are [1.91] to top La Liga despite finishing third last term, [5.0] to retain the Champions League - fighting Bayern Munich for favouritism - and [1.18] to beat Sevilla to the UEFA Super Cup.
The problem is that besides Diego Lopez (AC Milan), Casemiro (Porto) and Alvaro Morata (Juventus), everybody that was at the Bernabeu last season remains. Sami Khedira, Angel Di Maria and Isco have relentlessly been linked with moves away, but none have materialised.
So, while blessed with a group of extraordinary ability - particularly from midfield upwards - Carlo Ancelotti faces intense difficulty deciding the shape and faces of his strongest side, and has to do so quickly at a time when expectations are at an all-time high.
Ancelotti is the perfect coach for the task of course given both his tactical versatility and man-management mastery. In 2013/14, he identified the solution as a 4-3-3 in which Di Maria was converted from winger to central midfielder.
Though that tactic provides the best balance, allowing room for Xabi Alonso or Asier Illarramendi behind five attacking heavyweights, it no longer feels ideal due to the need to accommodate James, who operates as a number ten or wide forward rather than as part of a deeper middle trio.
Unless Ancelotti can convince Cristiano Ronaldo to play up front, creating space for both James and Gareth Bale on the wings, a switch to 4-2-3-1 appears the easiest way to squeeze their most illustrious players into the same team, albeit potentially at the expense of some defensive security:
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[Image courtesy of ShareMyTactics]
It seems like Navas will be the first-choice La Liga goalkeeper, with captain Iker Casillas on cup duty again. Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao will compete for left-back minutes, while Daniel Carvajal should see more action than Alvaro Arbeloa at right back.
Sergio Ramos and Pepe were the preferred centre-back pairing, yet you suspect that Raphael Varane will eventually dislodge the latter.
Kroos and Luka Modric are the two most complete midfielders at Real's disposal, but there is a case for picking one of Alonso or Illarramendi for greater defensive protection.
The front four in a 4-2-3-1 selects itself, with Ronaldo, James and Bale supporting Karim Benzema, though there are reports that Radamel Falcao will arrive to rival the Frenchman.