Uefa Champions League: Ancelotti returns to city of Madrid, scene of triumphs and tribulations, to face Atletico
Carlo Ancelotti grew to love the city of Madrid when he called it home. A part of him may be happiest in the bucolic surrounds of his native Reggio Emilia in Italy but an enduring excellence in his profession means he has got used to the metropolitan life and uniquely expert in the power-centres of Europe. He has kept addresses in Milan, London, Paris, Madrid and now Munich.
In Madrid, Ancelotti chose to live relatively close to the heart of the city, drew up a list of favoured restaurants and was open to the idea of staying in the Spanish capital for a sabbatical year even after he lost his job with Real Madrid, only 12 months after guiding them to their first Uefa Champions League title in 12 years, in 2014.
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Ancelotti, 57, would be far too wise to ever have supposed the post of manager at Madrid lasts long enough for anybody to think of it being their last position before retirement, but he felt comfortable being in the city, even after his two years at the club had been terminated.
He returns on Wednesday to a Madrid venue that provided some of his more awkward moments, the Vicente Calderon, home of an Atletico Madrid who flexed their muscles ever more powerfully in the period when Ancelotti was guiding Real to top-three finishes in the Primera Liga, in 2013/14 and 2014/15.
Atletico finished in top spot in his first season at Real; Atletico inflicted three derby defeats, in the league and Copa del Rey the following season that contributed to Ancelotti’s Real finishing without a trophy, ultimately to a motivation for his dismissal, even though his players mostly wished him to stay.
Indeed, such was Atletico’s mastery of local derbies in the Ancelotti period that he used to be asked if he had nightmares about taking on Diego Simeone’s rugged side. Ancelotti would reply: “One of the best memories of my career features Atletico Madrid.”
As if the city needed reminding. Real Madrid beat Atletico in the Champions League final, in Lisbon, a contest closer than the scoreline, 4-1 after extra time, suggests, but exhilarating for Ancelotti, whose reputation as a specialist in the European Cup was burnished that night.
That reputation should not detract from the fact Ancelotti has accumulated league titles in Italy – with AC Milan – in England – with Chelsea – and in France - with Paris Saint-Germain.
The expectation from the boardroom at Bayern Munich is that he will add to that register of excellence a Bundesliga shield.
Bayern, the German champions, are more than satisfied with how the Italian has assumed the reins from the departed Pep Guardiola. Bayern this term have eight wins out of eight, and they have conceded one goal. But neither the visiting manager, nor the vast majority of his players need reminders of how stubborn an opponent they face on Wednesday.
Ancelotti’s encounters with Atletico tell an exaggerated tale of his knack in European competitions and of Simeone’s strength in head-to-head meetings with the Italian in domestic context.
In the Champions League Ancelotti’s Real Madrid beat their neighbours in that Lisbon final and in the European quarter-finals a year later, a 1-0 aggregate triumph.
In the league, there were some bruising outcomes, not least Atletico 4 Real Madrid 0 in February 2015, a resonant result for Atletico fans.
Bayern learnt all about modern Atletico’s capacity to absorb pressure, cede possession and sting on the counter-attack last April and May.
Guardiola’s pass-masters were beaten in the last four of the Champions League by Simeone’s warriors, who went on to lose the final, to Real, on penalties.
Neither club would be begrudged a sense of impatience about the European Cup. Atletico have been in two of the last three finals; Bayern have been in the semi-finals every season since they lifted the trophy in 2013.
Ancelotti’s task is to break that glass ceiling. on Wednesday he gets to show his credentials.
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Published: September 27, 2016 04:00 AM