x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pressure rising on Galacticos amid underwhelming results

Madrid's fans not yet convinced by Ancelotti, PSG's Ibrahimovic not bothered by low scoring and United's Giggs could hit milestone, writes Andy Mitten.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti is under fire as his expensively-assembled squad has yet to fire on all cylinders. Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti is under fire as his expensively-assembled squad has yet to fire on all cylinders. Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Carlo Ancelotti has been in charge of Real Madrid for 100 days, an inglorious time in which more questions have been raised than answered.

Madrid have not enjoyed a good start to the season and Saturday’s home loss to Atletico Madrid – the first time their neighbours had won a league derby this century – ramped up frustrations.

“When are we going to start, Carlo?” asked Monday’s headline in Marca as Madrid prepared for Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League game against Copenhagen.

Madrid fans and the city’s influential media have doubts about the man who arrived from Paris Saint-Germain to replace Jose Mourinho. Despite signing Gareth Bale for a world-record transfer fee, Madrid are lacking intensity and are defensively suspect.

In Saturday’s derby, a game Atletico deserved to win by a bigger margin, their players did not look as fit as their opponents. The league is only seven games into its 38-match schedule, but already Madrid are five points behind Barcelona and Atletico, the best teams in Spain so far this season.

It would have been seven, had they not won in dubious circumstances with an unfairly awarded injury-time penalty which had conspiracy theorists talking up collusion between Madrid and referees.

Players are not happy that Mesut Ozil was sold to Arsenal. Fans have turned on Alvaro Arbeloa, Sami Khedira and Fabio Coentrao for their performances, their poor passing in a team which has yet to find its identity under their new coach, or its style of play. The fans had already lost patience with striker Karim Benzema, whom they feel has a poor attitude and who has not fulfilled his potential since arriving from Lyon in 2009.

When Isco, the one positive to come out of Madrid, was sacrificed before Benzema, the crowd of 80,000 howled in derision. Ancelotti’s substitutions have baffled this season. He has been advised by directors to protect the players from the public.

“We’re not playing well and many things are missing,” said Cristiano Ronaldo, “but there’s no reason to become too dramatic.”

Madrid’s sparkling stars may have cost more than at any club in the world, but have yet to properly gel. They are not playing like a team – Atleti were their antithesis – and critics of Florentino Perez, the club president, are saying that he is returning to the ill-remembered trophy-lite excesses of the Galacticos era a decade ago.

Madrid have some of the best attackers in world and when they combine, as they did in their 6-1 win over Galatasaray in their opening Champions League game, it is magical.

Yet Atletico’s manager, Diego Simeone, found a system to block their counter-attacks. The derby defeat was the first time Madrid had not scored in a home game since a goalless draw against Valencia in the 2011/12 season.

They are at home again tonight in a match they are expected to win. Stale Solbakken, the Copenhagen coach, will feel encouraged by Atletico’s performance in the Bernabeu.

Solbakken, back for his second spell at Denmark’s biggest club after an inglorious sojourn with Wolverhampton Wanderers, once held eventual winners Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in 2010.

He encouraged his side to frustrate Barcelona in Camp Nou with a defensive style, and his lively touchline demeanour and tactics worked, with Pep Guardiola uncharacteristically losing his temper after one of the matches.

Solbakken would do well if his side avoided defeat, but Atletico said the same before the derby.

Paris Saint-Germain v Benfica

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain’s star striker, says he is not bothered by having just two goals in 10 games going into Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League match against Benfica. “I think it’s a positive thing. Now it’s not only one that is scoring, we have another striker like [Edinson] Cavani that can score,” he said. Cavani has twice as many goals in Ligue 1 as Ibrahimovic so far.

Juventus v Galatasaray

Antonio Conte, the Juventus coach, says Roberto Mancini’s recent arrival at Galatasaray has upset his tactical plans for the side’s clash in Turin on Wednesday night. “I’m really happy that Roberto is back in charge of a team,” Conte said. “But, we lost all of the tactical reference points we had on Galatasaray.”

Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester United

Should under-fire Manchester United coach David Moyes turn to Ryan Giggs on Wednesday night against Shakhtar Donetsk, it will be the Welshman’s record 145th appearance in Europe’s premier competition, moving him ahead of former Real Madrid striker Raul. “Really? Wow. I didn’t know that,” said Giggs, 39.

Anderlecht v Olympiakos

Olympiakos’ only defeat this season was the 4-1 home loss to Paris Saint-Germain, and they are keen to atone away against Anderlecht. “We know we can’t lose there,” Vladimir Weiss said. “We are used to winning in the [Greek] league and we have to take that confidence into the Champions League.”

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