Toni Kroos with coach Carlo Ancelotti. Reuters
Carlo Ancelotti's master plan
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Carlo Ancelotti's master plan

It's nowhere near the best Real Madrid team of all time but it is the team with the strongest mindset ever in club football

Rob Palmer, ESPN commentator


Friday, 31 May 2024, 15:05


Carlo Ancelotti heads to Wembley stadium for his sixth Champions League final with a team that's best described as the "Mentality Monsters"

When the great Italian claims this edition of Real Madrid as the "best squad I've ever had," you know it's a pretty special bunch and he's managed some incredible sides in his illustrious career.

Note he says squad! This is far from the best team he's ever managed. Even going back twelve months he's needed to make do without Karim Benzema, Éder Militão, and Thibaut Courtois. He's needed to dig deep, use every single player in the group, and lean on a mindset that is second to none.

The "Road to Wembley" hasn't been a smooth one. The European campaign started off with a 94th minute winner against Union Berlin; a late own-goal sealed it in Napoli; the odd goal saw off Braga away; two very late goals floored Napoli when they visited Madrid and then Dani Ceballos clinched the victory in Berlin in minute 89.

The group stage wasn't a breeze a and it didn't get much easier in the knockout stages. There was only a single goal of difference in the clashes with RB Leipzig; Manchester City were beaten on penalties; and Bayern floored by two goals in the last two minutes.

It's nowhere near the best Real Madrid team of all time, but I'd argue it's the team with the strongest mindset ever in club football. Jude Bellingham and Vinícius Junior, are the headliners yet the likes of Brahim Díaz, Nico Paz and Dani Ceballos have contributed to the success.

It's like an orchestra that depends on the star musicians - but every now and again you need a guy with a triangle to make the full composition work, and Ancelotti is the maestro. He's created a symphony by using every player available.

Beyond the Champions League, they have shown an unmatched ability to clinch matches in the closing stages. They've scored an incredible 22 goals in the final 10 minutes of games. It defies logic for a team that depends on elder statesmen like Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić, Nacho and Dani Carvajal. In theory, they should tire out rather than gather energy in the final minutes.

This final will be the last dance as a troupe. Kroos is retiring, Nacho seems determined to head to America, Carvajal knows he's nearing the final seasons and the future of Modrić is uncertain.

Reading the paragraphs above, you'd think that Borussia Dortmund would fancy their chances? Real are clear favourites as Ancelotti has a master plan. He's been able to rest and relax his players on a rotational basis since the arduous semi-final and give his preferred XI a runout in the last Liga game against Real Betis.

Sentiment is cast aside for harsh reality. Andriy Lunin, the back-up goalkeeper who starred in the whole campaign will be left out as Courtois has shown he's back to his world-class best. In contrast, Éder Militão - arguably one of the best defenders in the world - won't start as he's not back to his best.

You want a prediction? Real will look like they're playing within themselves; Ancelotti will make decisive substitutions; and the game will be won very late on Saturday night. Real will claim their 15th elite European trophy and Ancelotti etches his name into history with his fifth as a coach. That's the way it has been all season.

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