Skip to main content

MADRID, Spain, April 5Carlo Ancelotti knows better than anyone how quickly things can change at Real Madrid.

After the resounding comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, Madrid were euphoric. They had defeated one of Europe’s elite, humiliated an economic rival, neutralized Lionel Messi and, according to many, convinced Kylian Mbappe.

They were on the verge of winning La Liga and suddenly looked like Champions League contenders too.

Three weeks later, the league advantage is still intact thanks to a scruffy, albeit morale-boosting victory against Celta Vigo on Saturday. But Ancelotti’s credit has all but evaporated.

Real Madrid were waiting on Tuesday to decide whether their manager can go to the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea on Wednesday, after testing positive for Covid last week.

The outcome of the encounter could decide whether he continues as coach next season.

It says a lot about the weight of the Clasico fixture that eight months of largely impressive work can be almost entirely erased by one, disastrous, 90 minutes.

There were criticisms of Ancelotti – of Madrid’s counter-attacking style, lack of rotation and, in particular, the manner of the passive first-leg loss to PSG – but a commanding position in La Liga had especially retained the skeptics. Check.

Advertising. Scroll to continue reading.

Losing 4-0 to Barcelona, ​​however, at the Santiago Bernabeu, when Madrid could easily have dispatched six or seven, raised doubts, not least because the result served as a warning for what might come.

Barca are 11 points behind Real Madrid in the table, but it’s Xavi Hernandez’s resurgent young side who end the season as Spain’s strongest team.

For Ancelotti, the Clasico defeat means winning La Liga might not be enough anymore. How they win the title, with eight games to go, and how they fare against Chelsea will now define how the first year of Ancelotti’s second term is viewed.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met Ancelotti during the international break and while Perez reassured Ancelotti that his future was secure, the need for talks was significant.

When Ancelotti was sacked by Real Madrid in 2015, a year after winning the Champions League, he later admitted that the moment he was told to meet Perez was the moment he first knew that his days were numbered.

Thomas Tuchel’s future could depend on the change of ownership at Chelsea. © AFP/File/Glyn KIRK

Ancelotti’s arrival last summer came as a surprise to everyone, including Ancelotti and Perez.

It was only a chance conversation between them that saw the idea float and then quickly take shape. “It happened fast,” Ancelotti said during his unveiling.

This helped create the impression that this was a short-term appointment, which could be reduced without too much fanfare or financial penalty.

If there is a separation this summer, it is unlikely to be bitter. Once the league title was won, both sides would consider it a success.

But Ancelotti’s appointment may also have been a reflection of the market last summer, when there was a shortage of top coaches available.

Advertising. Scroll to continue reading.

Barcelona sought to replace Ronald Koeman but stuck with the Dutchman after finding no one else was suitable. Manchester United continued with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Juventus turned to Max Allegri.

This summer there could be more compelling options, with Mauricio Pochettino set to part ways with PSG. Erik Ten Hag may be ready to leave Ajax and Raul Gonzalez, the legendary ex-Real Madrid striker, will have completed three years with the B team and could be ready to follow Zinedine Zidane’s path.

Depending on the ownership situation at Chelsea, perhaps even Thomas Tuchel could be drawn in.

Even if Chelsea’s future is resolved and Tuchel is reassured, his presence in this match is awkward for Ancelotti, the German representing the type of younger and more progressive manager that Madrid have so far avoided but of which he might need to stay ahead of Xavi’s Barcelona.

A positive performance should be enough to convince Perez that Ancelotti is worth a second season, especially with Mbappe set to join this summer.

Ancelotti has an enviable track record of getting the most out of top players. His work with Vinicius Junior, who currently plays in Mbappe’s position, has been transformative.

But defeat would leave Ancelotti vulnerable, deepening the Clasico defeat at a time when his critics are gathering ammunition. He will know that there is no margin for error.