Ancelotti: We won’t rest on our laurels

The acclamation for Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has been loud and unanimous through recent weeks, with most Blancos directors, fans, players and pundits conveniently forgetting their regular misgivings about the Italian throughout an ultimately historic 12 months.

Ancelotti: We won’t rest on our laurels

Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Copa Libertadores winners San Lorenzo of Argentina in the pre-Christmas Club World Cup final made 2014 the most successful in the club’s 112 year past — with the Copa Del Rey, Champions League and European Supercup having already been secured.

The fourth trophy was not the most prestigious, but did adorn a phenomenal run of 22 consecutive victories in all competitions, meaning Madrid have won each and every game they have played since late September.

During the calendar year Los Blancos won 51 of 63 games played, scoring 178 goals and conceding just 41. These are better figures than even the best Barcelona under Pep Guardiola could manage, something the Madrid media have been very happy to highlight.

In just 16 months at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Ancelotti has secured more silverware than predecessor Jose Mourinho managed in his three years in charge. The relaxed Italian has also brought peace to a dressing-room which was in open revolt by the time Mourinho left. So from this end of year position 2014 might look like plain sailing for Carlo Ancelotti and his team. But looking back at how events actually unfolded tells a quite different story.

The last game Madrid did not win was an embarrassing La Liga ‘derbi’ home defeat to neighbours Atletico Madrid, their second defeat in their first three La Liga games of 2014/15. The loss of key players Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria last summer was proving painful, and new galacticos Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez had not yet settled. With whistles ringing around the Bernabeu, and pressure mounting on club president Florentino Perez, well-sourced speculation had it that Ancelotti was being positioned as a ‘fall guy’.

It is more certain that the Italian was seconds away from losing his job when Madrid were 0-1 down to Atletico as last May’s Champions League final went into injury time. Being denied an end to the long wait for a tenth European Cup, in such high-profile fashion by their scruffier neighbours, would have surely meant the sack for the coach. Then Sergio Ramos headed a 93rd minute equaliser, Madrid easily secured the trophy in extra-time, and Ancelotti will always be known as the ‘Decima’ coach.

‘Carletto’ even reaching that final looked very unlikely just a few months earlier, when Madrid’s season appeared to be unravelling in spectacular fashion. A 4-3 defeat at home to Barcelona followed by a 2-0 loss at Sevilla saw them slip off the pace in La Liga. They just about made the Champions League last four, losing the quarter-final second leg 2-0 at Borussia Dortmund.

Cristiano Ronaldo was struggling with a knee injury, and missed early April’s ‘clasico’ Copa del Rey final. That game was 1-1 going into the last 10 minutes, with the momentum with Barcelona who had equalised. Gareth Bale’s superb solo winner was a vital moment in putting Madrid’s year on track, as Ancelotti himself pointed to after the Club World Cup final.

“The key was the first final in the Copa del Rey,” he said. “To win that cup in that moment gave us a lot of confidence. That was decisive. Afterwards the team improved in every game.”

As he headed off for a quick break before starting to prepare for the new year, which begins with a tough La Liga trip to Valencia followed by two Copa del Rey last 16 games against Atletico, Ancelotti was characteristically upbeat but forward looking.

“We are very happy to end the year with this trophy,” he said. “But we need to keep going. We want 2015 to be like 2014.”

From this perspective, that would do just nicely.

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