Carlo Ancelotti is not a man who is stubborn in his methods. The Italian might be one of the most experienced and decorated managers currently operating in the dugout, but the former AC Milan, Chelsea and Paris St. Germain manager is not afraid to tinker with his tactics -- even if it could disrupt a winning formula.
Ancelotti guided Real Madrid to their long-awaited 10th European Cup this past season, which added a Copa del Rey success over old foes Barcelona that made it a successful first season at the Bernabeu for the 55-year-old, despite his falling short to neighbours and La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
He did it using a 4-3-3 formation headed by the lethal attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, but if Los Merengues' transfer targets are to be taken seriously this summer, it would be no surprise to see the European champions line up differently, both in personnel and formation, next season as they look to go one better and reclaim La Liga after a two-year absence as Spanish champions.
Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos is set to bring what has so far been a successful World Cup to a close with a big-money move to the Spanish capital. The 24-year-old midfielder has a year left on his current deal in Germany, but reports in Spain suggest Madrid president Florentino Perez is willing to part with 25 million Euros for his services. Kroos has refused to put pen to paper on a new deal, and a switch to Madrid looks the most likely outcome.
He would join a squad packed full of midfield talent in Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric, Angel Di Maria, Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Sami Khedira. His arrival would most likely see one of those depart, but it would also mean a change in approach for Madrid and another change in Ancelotti's longer-term goal.
When the Italian arrived at the Bernabeu this past summer, he promised a change from the typical counterattacking style to a more possession-based approach. That didn't really happen, but it didn't exactly hamper Madrid, who went on to win the double, led by a historic night in Lisbon when they lifted the Champions League. Gareth Bale's stunning breakaway goal won the Copa del Rey against Valencia, and Madrid's counterattacking approach won them plenty of points throughout the season. Pep Guardiola, an old foe from Catalonia, even described his nemesis as the greatest counterattacking side in the world.
Madrid had the players to do it, but now Ancelotti looks set to bring in the players that could see his side control games -- just as he wanted from the start. "In recent years, Real Madrid have played more on the counter," the Blancos boss said this past season. "We are trying to play by gaining possession, passing the ball around more. But this needs time."
The potential arrival of Kroos should edge much closer to that approach and add another weapon to a squad already packed with attacking threat. Ancelotti is a boss who will not fit square pegs into round holes. "My system is the one in which the players feel most comfortable and convinced -- not the one I might have in my head," he said this past season. Now, a year on, he is able to bring in the players he wants to do a job for him. Kroos fits that bill and could ensure a change in approach next term. He probably won't be the last.
Madrid's 4-3-3 that brought much success this past term could change to a 4-4-2 or even back to the 4-2-3-1 that Ancelotti used at the start of his tenure as boss. With Karim Benzema as the lone striker, Kroos would fit nicely into an attacking trio alongside Ronaldo or Bale or further back alongside Alonso or Modric. There are plenty of options, and though Madrid are European champions, there will be no resting on their laurels.
World Cup wonder James Rodriguez could also arrive. The Colombian is the tournament's top scorer, with five goals in his country's four matches, and his latest one arguably the goal of the summer as his side saw off Uruguay to reach the quarterfinals. At 22, he has youth on his side and is a player who shines on the big stage. Perez likes his Galacticos, and Rodriguez could well be the star of the World Cup.
It would be hard to imagine Rodriguez starting for Los Blancos if Ancelotti stuck with his 4-3-3 approach, but a change to 4-2-3-1, aided by Kroos's arrival, could make sense. Rather than hindering one another, their joint arrival and a change in approach for the team could help at the expense of one of Madrid's current players.
Di Maria seems to be the name linked with a move away, despite his heroics for Madrid this past season and his star performances for Argentina this summer in Brazil. The former Benfica man has taken time to win over the Bernabeu faithful, but he managed to this past term by taking matches by the scruff of the neck and offering an energy that few others in the squad could. His performances both in the Copa del Rey final and Champions League final should be enough to keep him in Madrid, but the expected arrival of Kroos speaks volumes. The Argentine's time could be up.
- LIVE: Transfer talk
Much of the summer transfer talk has surrounded the midfield, but Madridistas should hope Ancelotti and his advisors are looking at more options in goal next term. The World Cup could have been a competition that thrusted Iker Casillas back into a starting role after a year and a half absence, but his horror-show performances ensured he won't be getting the No.1 jersey back in a hurry. Diego Lopez has been linked with a move away from the Spanish capital, and Los Blancos should be looking at a long-term solution in goal.
Espanyol's Kiko Casilla caught the attention this past season in particular, especially in matches against Madrid, and he has been one named mentioned. A shot-stopper who progressed through the Real Madrid youth ranks, the move would be seen as a romantic one, and it wouldn't cost the world. Keylor Navas, having shined for Costa Rica and also Levante this past term, could be another option.
With Luis Suarez seemingly preferring a move to Barcelona over Madrid, expect Los Blancos to be back in the market for a striker with Alvaro Morata set to move away. With midfield seemingly a priority, expect a like-for-like replacement for Morata, rather than a big-money addition up top as Karim Benzema continues to shine. When the final whistle blows on a thrilling World Cup, expect an exciting transfer market to open up with Madrid, as usual, leading the way.