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Real Madrid liberated by Ancelotti return but tougher tests await

Carlo Ancelotti called it his “honeymoon period” at Real Madrid and club and coach want to enjoy it while it lasts.

Madrid face Sheriff Tiraspol on Tuesday in the Champions League on the back of a 1-0 win away at Inter Milan that already appears to have put Ancelotti’s team in charge of Group D.

And Madrid have started fast in Spain too, after five wins and two draws have taken them to the top of La Liga, three points clear of Atletico Madrid and five ahead of Barcelona.

Ancelotti was asked on Friday when the honeymoon period would end after Madrid’s 6-1 thrashing of Mallorca. 

“When it’s going to end, I’ll tell you but so far, I’m fine,” he said.

It is not just the results that have lifted the mood, after a summer that began with Atletico winning the title and ended with Real Madrid making around 50 million euros in profit from the transfer window and failing to sign Kylian Mbappe.

It is the performances that have excited the fans and given some freshness to a squad that appeared to have grown stale under Zinedine Zidane last season.

Zidane’s success at the helm was historic but his style, whenever it was possible to identify one, was cautious, prioritising defensive solidity, honed from his years at Juventus under Marcelo Lippi, over attacking exuberance.

Ancelotti has taken the handbrake off and the result has been younger players flourishing and the goals flying in.

Real Madrid have scored 21 in seven La Liga games this season, a total that has been spread across eight different players including Karim Benzema, Vincius Junior, Marco Asensio, Eduardo Camavinga, Gareth Bale, Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez.

Benzema has eight of them, as well as seven assists, the Frenchman enhancing his claim to be Lionel Messi’s heir as the best player in La Liga and perhaps even the best all-round striker now in the world.

While Benzema’s displays are nothing new, the likes of Vinicius and Asensio have exploded into life under Ancelotti, with Asensio scoring a hat-trick against Mallorca in midweek and Vinicius discovering a more clinical edge that had been previously so lacking in his career. 

The 18-year-old Camavinga is already a fans’ favourite.

“Camavinga has no pressure, his character is like that, he is very cheerful, he gets along well with his teammates, he tries to learn Spanish quickly,” said Ancelotti. “It is the freshness of youth.”

When Ancelotti’s arrival was confirmed, some were disappointed Madrid had not been bolder, accusing the club of choosing a safe option instead of a more ideological coach in the mould of Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann or Pep Guardiola.

The success of the attack has even made Ancelotti nervous, with a greater focus on the defence contributing to a goalless draw against Villarreal on Saturday.

“To be honest we have been focusing a lot on the defensive area because it was the aspect that needed the most improvement,” said Ancelotti.

But while greater challenges lie ahead, the merits of his appointment have so far been clear, with Real Madrid enjoying the freedom that comes with reduced expectations and the emergence of youth.

“My relationship with the club is very good at the moment, it is a honeymoon period for me,” said Ancelotti this week. 

“We will have less brilliant moments, but my respect for this club will always be there, for what this club represents, the president, the fans. More complicated moments will come but we will have a good time.”

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