Carlo Ancelotti – A binary manager in a digital world?
Bayern became the first major team in Europe to make a managerial change last Thursday as they made the decision to relieve Carlo Ancelotti of his duties as Head Coach. Ancelotti’s 18 month tenure in charge of Bayern had seen its fair share of problems; a testing transition from Pep Guardiola’s impressive style of play, an apparent frosty relationship with senior players (Arjen Robben apparently commenting that Ancelotti’s training methods were poorer than his child’s youth team’s) and an inauspicious start to this season which saw his team lose 2-0 at Hoffenheim, drop points at home to Wolfsburg and beaten 3-0 by a fast and incisive PSG attack in the Champions League.
Ancelotti is a curious case – certainly you cannot accuse someone who has won three Champions League titles at two different clubs as being anything other than an immensely successful coach, certainly on the European stage. What is interesting however, is his record in domestic competitions; four league titles since starting his managerial career in 1995 with Reggiana in his native Italy, despite boasting AC Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid, Chelsea, PSG and Bayern Munich on his CV. As I have said, there have been many high points in his career; his Chelsea title winning side still hold the record for most amount of goals scored in a Premier League season, racking up 7 and 8 goals on more than one occasion and he was the Coach when Real Madrid finally won La Decima. There has though, always been an accusation levelled at him that he does not command respect of the players in the dressing room, certainly not when compared to other Managers working at the top of world football and that his laid back approach at Bayern, apparently telling players to ‘keep doing what you have been doing’ did not sit well with senior players like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben who demand a more astute approach from their Coach, especially when playing in Europe.
Ancelotti’s next move will be an interesting one. With Antonio Conte seemingly looking at moving back to Italy after this season, could a return to Chelsea be in store? I can’t help but wonder however if the ultra-nuanced tactical approach of elite European coaches is at risk of leaving Ancelotti behind. Time will tell.
Napoli – Europe’s most entertaining team
Napoli continued their impressive start to the Serie A season on Sunday morning, comfortably beating Cagliari 3-0 at the Stadio San Paolo. The result was never in any doubt from the moment that Marek Hamsik scored in the 4th minute and certainly 3-0 flattered Cagliari who had to contend with waves of Napoli attacks throughout most of the game. Sunday’s game was the 11th straight game in which Napoli have scored at least 3 goals and cemented their place at the top of Serie A with a perfect record of 21 points from 21.
Napoli’s start to the season has undoubtedly been impressive but it is the way in which this has been achieved that is catching my attention. There cannot be a more impressive front 4 in world football at the moment than Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik but they are also ably assisted by roving full backs on both sides and a defence anchored by the dominant Kalidou Koulibaly. Their play this season has been nothing short of scintillating with a real desire to push forward and create chances at every opportunity – the antithesis to what people think of when they think Serie A. Sarri’s men are an irresistible force and if they can keep everyone fit, they just might have as good a chance this season as they ever will to finally topple the immovable object that has been Juventus. One thing is for certain though, whether they do or they don’t………it will be fun to watch.
City – Not going away this season
Last season, Manchester City started the season on fire, sitting atop of the Premier League after 8 games and playing the type of football that we have become accustomed to with Pep Guardiola’s teams. Their season however somewhat petered out in the end as injuries and a lack of focus at crucial times, not to mention Guardiola’s constant rotating of the side in order to find a perfect blend, led to them dropping points to teams that they undoubtedly should have been beating. Chelsea on the other hand, with a settled team and no European games to contend with, were able to keep a fairly settled team and comfortably win the title in Antonio Conte’s first season. The game between these two on Saturday evening at Stamford Bridge served as a good indicator of where these two teams are as we head in to the International break.
City, lining up without two of their biggest attacking threats in full-back Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero, set up their team perfectly to counteract Chelsea’s biggest attacking threat; the counter attack. We all know that Guardiola’s teams are expert at ball retention and this dominance of the ball stopped Chelsea from gaining any meaningful possession of the football and as soon as the ball was turned over, City’s pressing of the Chelsea defence and midfield meant they could not release Hazard and Morata and instead usually were harried in to sending aimless long balls, easily dealt with by Otamendi and Stones. It was a similar way to which Arsenal set up at Stamford Bridge a few weeks back with the obvious difference being that City generally have greater quality in their ranks to make their dominance pay dividends and so it proved when the outstanding player on the park, Kevin De Bruyne, struck with a lovely left footed shot past Courtois to take the 3 points back to Manchester.
Questions then for Conte’s Chelsea but in terms of Manchester City, Pep does seem to have got the team playing in his own image and with a greater defensive unity when compared to last season, the battle between themselves and Manchester United should be a fascinating one.