Carlo Ancelotti knows the cost of winning nothing with Real Madrid

Italian set to become latest victim of ceaseless pressure from Real's boardroom

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Carlo Ancelotti was described this week as Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’s “plan B” in the aftermath of the club’s Champions League semi-final defeat by Juventus. It would have been unflattering for a potential managerial candidate, it was even more so for the incumbent.

Ancelotti’s English assistant, Paul Clement, should be in the technical area today for the visit to Espanyol because the Italian coach is banned. Clement will leave in the summer to return to England and barring “not finding anyone better” to quote one front page from Madrid this week, Ancelotti will also be gone.

Win, lose or draw this evening the league title will be over for Real Madrid if Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid. Real will have won only one of the last seven league titles if they miss out on this one.

They went on a run of 22 victories through November and December that culminated in winning the World Club Cup but when Ancelotti lost Luka Modric to injury, things began to unravel and they found Juventus and Barcelona too strong.

If Ancelotti does stay he will be the first coach to be kept on having won nothing since Alfredo Di Stefano in 1983. Perez favours replacing him with a tough Spaniard but there is no outstanding candidate.

Rafa Benitez has a good relationship with the president and his trusted lieutenant Jose Angel Sanchez but supporters have always been strangely cold towards the idea of him taking over.

Unai Emery has the best recent track record of the contenders. He consistently got Valencia into the Champions League and has taken Sevilla to back-to-back Europa League finals. And Rayo Vallecano’s Paco Jemez plays the sort of “caution to the wind” football that Perez has always demanded of his coaches – he once suggested Zinedine Zidane play at centre-back so as to fit in all his attacking superstars. But Jemez is inexperienced and Emery unfashionable.

Ever the populist, the president will decide at the end of the season and Ancelotti will not lose any sleep over the decision. Last season’s Champions League has only enhanced his reputation.

There are concerns in attack with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo struggling to gel

Madrid will need new players too. They have already signed right-back Danillo from Porto and a left-back could follow. They will bring in David De Gea from Manchester United and will look for a high energy midfielder with Dortmund’s Ilkay Gündogan and PSG’s Marco Verratti the two main candidates.

There are concerns in attack too because Real’s front three of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema has scored 37 goals since the turn of the year, while Barcelona’s trio of Luis Suarez, Leo Messi and Neymar have scored 74 in that time. What is more, the Barça three look like they are enjoying themselves. 

They display a spirit of togetherness clearly missing at Madrid where Ronaldo’s obsession with getting the goals that bring in the personal awards sometimes take its toll on the squad.

There have been fall-outs with captain Sergo Ramos in recent weeks. Once at half-time in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final when he was accused of not closing down Andrea Pirlo as he had been instructed to do and again after the second leg.

If there is a new coach he will need to bring the same team spirit that was temporarily achieved last season. And Bale will need to be given the same attacking licence he was last year. His £85m price tag comes with responsibility but it should also come with a certain understanding that the team needs to play to his strengths. With Manchester United so keen to take him, assurances about just how his Madrid future is going to pan out may be even be sought.

He has been nicknamed the enigma in the dressing room according to one well-connected Spanish journalist. Whether that’s because they still see him as something of a riddle, is not clear. It may well be the nothing more than the belief that he bears a resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch who stars in the film about the Enigma machine The Imitation Game recently released in Spain.

Today Bale will be directed from the technical area Clement, who has a number one job on the horizon in England.

Ancelotti will wait and see what happens. He is popular with the players, he knows how to manage at a club of Madrid’s size, and was successful last season.

Perez knows he could do a lot worse. But if Barça win the treble and Madrid nothing; then hiring his ninth manager would be an itch he couldn’t resist scratching.