Thursday, 18 April 2013

Insights from Carlo Ancelotti

The Carlo Ancelotti 4-3-2-1


The wings are never covered permanently during the attack, attacking is about unpredictability and movement off the ball so there will be alternating attacks from centre to wide positions. Width will be provided by different players at different times. Nothing is static here.

Most of the time the width will come from fullbacks who should be skilled in attack as well as his defensive tasks. If the fullbacks can't control the width then a midfield player will control it, if not then the forward will move. The trigger for switching is each players position at the moment of transition.

The main method of attack is fast break attacks from the point the ball regained, anything which slows down attacks is to be avoided. The main advantage present in this system is the 2 players between the lines of defence and attack.

Defending Movements

The key to the defence is a "collapsing" movement which is aimed at creating depth behind the ball.

Carlo Ancelotti asks for three phases of transition once the ball is lost:

1-Pressure the ball carrier while while re-organising behind the ball.
2-Pressure the area around the ball while failing back.
3-If the ball has not been regained fail back to own half before pressuring the ball again.

If the ball is lost high up the pitch in a wide the attacking midfield player will press the players with the ball. The second attacking midfield player will drop into midfield while the nearest midfield players will mark the opposing midfield players clost to the ball to prevent passing combination play.

If the ball is lost in midfield on the flank the midfield player will pressure while the attacking midfield player and fullback will cover passing options. Support players will adjust and balance the midfield closing the central areas of the pitch.

If the ball is in the area of the full back he will pressure 1v1 with other midfield and defending players providing support with either man marking or doubling up as needed.

For the phases of transition to work it vital that the ball carrier be pressured effectively. Ancelotti selected a collapsing defence in order to avoid counter attacks.

The midfield is balanced by the free attacking midfield midfield player dropping into any free space, while the striker supports to pressuring attacking midfield player.

Carlo Ancelotti asks his forward players to defend from the front based on how many defenders are in the opposing team back line, if 4 defenders are used the 1 striker will cover both centre backs making movements between the 2. If the opponent defends with 3 players the 2 attacking midfielders push up to make a 3v3 with 1 on each defender.

One weakness which must be worked on is defending against long switching of play which can leave a fullback isolated on one side with weak support.

The focus is placed on closing down the center of the pitch with closest midfield players to the ball man marked by midfield players where possible.


In training Carlo Ancelotti Focused on:
Positional tasks for defenders both individual and group.
Attacking from the point the ball is regained with general principles which the players should follow, no set patterns are used players are encouraged to experiment with attacking tactics but within the confines of the basic principles provided.
Effective movement off the ball is the main attacking focus.
Use of many small sided games based on creating numerical superiority in key areas, games for pressing and precise attacking combinations are also used.
Hope that helps in some way.

Apologies for the shortness of the post I vastly underestimated the amount of material I have on Carlo Ancelotti to post there is to much , but as promised I will post a session that provides an example of some of the key ideas of Carlo Ancelotti and how he refines the attacking movements of his forwards in either a 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2.

Carlo Ancelotti Sample Session

Warm up-25 mins, half field coned off, warm up is dynamic alternating between sequence passing moves using cone play,dynamic stretching, varied speed runs and movement drills with a ball. The long warm up is aimed at preparing the players in mental areas not just physical. Injury prevention is also a key area in mind.

Training then takes place in a 30x30 yard grid in front of the penalty area, with one large goal plus GK. The training progresses from attacking 1v1 to shoot into midfield support and shooting. These are some of the basic moves which Ancelotti refines with his players in order to create shooting chances in key central areas. Movements, techniques and decision making are refined in constantly in drills of this nature. Pressure is a constant factor in Ancelotti methodology. The next part is to refine the movements of 2 forwards who Ancelotti says must be capable of winning a 2v2 with 2 centre backs. The session progresses onto 3v2 and finally ending with a small sided game in 40x30 yard grid. To warm down players engage in free play with no coaching in relaxed conditions.

Progression 1 (attacking 1v1 to shoot central areas)- 5 mins,the defender who is positioned in the top right corner of the square passes to the defender who is positioned in the middle of the bottom end line. The attacker must beat the defender to create a shot from inside the grid.The drill is high paced with attacker aiming to create accurate shots from the area just in front of goal.

Progression 2 (Recieve ,Turn and Shoot)-5 mins, the ball is thrown out to a player near the centre circle who passes into the attacker who must receive under pressure with his back to goal, turn  and aim to force a quick shot as in progression 1.

Progression 3 -5 mins,(Unmarking 1v1 to shoot) the ball is passed to a player positioned outside the centre circle, the attacker must move against the defender 1v1 and indicate whether the server should pass into space or into feet and then attempt to beat the defender to create a shot.

Progression 4 -5 mins (Midfield support, receive and shoot), the ball is passed out to a player positioned on the edge of the centre circle who then passes to the attacker who must pass back first time for the midfield player to play a through pass for the striker to receive and then attempt to beat the defender then shoot. The aim is to practice the basic movement of coming towards the ball to draw the defender in, passing first time back the passer and then making a run into the space behind the defender from a pass from the support player. This is a very simple move for creating space and can be very effective in front of goal.

Progression 5 -2v2-5 mins, the drill is in the same area of the previous 1v1 and begins the same way as progression 4 the difference in this progression is that an extra defender and attacker added and must use the movements learnt in the previous progressions to win 2v2. Speed is again essential here Carlo Ancelotti aims for effective shots and combinations from key central square just in front of the penalty area.

Progression 6 -3v2, the area is the same and the progression from 2v2 is that the aim is to involve the attacking midfield player, the major aim is to refine runs made to penetrate, the main move refined is the overlap. Here the 3 forwards combine all the previous moves with the off the ball movement of the attacking midfield player. The focus again is on attacking with a high speed of play and creating shooting chances in the key central area.

Progression 7 -6v6 with 2 Goal Keepers, 15 mins, the area is expanded to 40 yards wide and another large goal is added. The aim is to perfect attacking movements with the correct decision and speed of play, the challenge of the game is to play minimal touches when needed, 1 touch when needed and to know when to take an extra touch.Carlo  Ancelotti believes that anything that slows the game down should be avoided, to do this a player must know when to take no touches, when to take 1 touch and when to take 2 or more. The aim is to produce attacking moves which have a fluid momentum where no player takes more touches than are needed and can do this under pressure. To warm down the players then play free play free of coaching in a relaxed atmosphere.

The Goal Keeper is in the normal goal, the 30x30 yard box is just in front of the penalty area.
The session was to sharpen for a champions league game, nd it was the first of a week cycle, Carlo Ancelotti bases his training on that done by Saachi, the training loads, intensity, coaching methods etc are all similar. The drills would be revisited as it were at different times in the season. The principles in terms of speed of play are central to Carlo Ancelottis thinking.

This is one of many sessions from my own Milan training journals which date back to Saachi. Including tactics, coaching points, fitness training systems etc.


  1. I have (fairly successfully) ran the 4-3-2-1 with my boys varsity team for 2 years. I stress creativity between the attacking mids and center forward (who typically plays with his back to goal). My fullbacks provide width, and my holding mid is a ball-winner and distributor. I would love any more information you have on Ancelotti as he is strategically the closest big-time manager to myself. Thanks for posting!

    -- Sean

  2. Hello Sean,

    Here is more detail into how he runs the system you both like.

    Favourite Systems:

    4-3-2-1 (XMAS TREE)

    Ancelotti likes to use the two systems above because it gives his team the edge it needs in order to play his desired style

    Positional Roles:

    1) Ancelotti has always incorporated a man marking system in defence. The 2 Center Defenders play in a free flow system where they are designated to cover a man and they move with the man. That is why you may see the interchanging on Nesta and Maldini. The outside defenders play a very important role to his play as they are not regarded as defenders but Wing backs. They are very attacking and often play very high up the field.

    2) In midfield, Ancelotti incorporates a 3 man wall midfield with 2 stoppers and a play maker. The one deepest in the formation is known as the deep lying playmaker, (pirlo). The other 2 midfielders around him who play further up are strictly defensive midfielders and they are used to win the ball.

    3) In the attack he likes to use 1 Trequarista or Playmaking attacking midfielder. He likes to use 1 shadow striker and 1 poacher.


    1) Possession is the most important attribute of this system. Build up is often slow and cautious with minimal creativity.

    2) He has one designated controller (receives ball and distributes with mainly ground passes), which is the AM. One play maker which is the Deep lying DM (changes tempo of the game with various styles of passing). One Shadow Striker in which his team can change the tempo of the game (used for penetration or quick counters).

    3) Wingbacks are pushed further up the field and are essential for width. Their defensive duties come second to their attacking duties as he has 2 ball winning DM on either side to cover them.

    4) Man marking defence on corners, set pieces, overall everything.

    5) BUILD UP= slow and cautious with a lot of passes (5-10 at least). COUNTER ATTACK= carried usually through the shadow striker and the poacher with the AM coming in for support.

    6) Defence= low pressure. Midfield= High pressure, must win ball at all costs. Attack= high pressure, easy tackling.

    7) Defence splitting passes are often used as the Poacher is very mobile and moves into channels.

  3. Cont...

    How it all works:

    Usually the defence and the Deeplying play maker and the defence hold on to the ball until the wingbacks have entered the final third of the field. Penetration happens immediately at this point as the ball is either built up slowly through the 2 stoppers and to the wingbacks and so on. Or there is a long ball sent to the attacks which causes immediate pressure and often unbalances the opposition. The CF or poacher plays very high and often is moving from side to side. The AM drops deep to receive the ball and distribute to the wingbacks or back to the midfielders. The SS at this point drops into space to receive pass and to penetrate using speed/killer passes/ shots.


    CB: Tight man marking on attackers. Low pressure, do not make very many challenges. Physically strong and able to execute a ball winning tackle at any time. Plays simple passing game with DLP.

    RWB/LWB= attack the flank constantly. Play cautious passing game and bombard down the flank creating crossing opportunities and space.

    DLP= Deep lying play maker. Dictates the tempo of the game. Engineer of the entire team and determines whether the build up is fast or slow. Uses best passer on the team in this position.

    DMF= Ball winning midfielders who are set on high pressure. Play simple passing game and very predictable. Often pass to AM or DLP. Uses strong and aggressive ball winners.

    AM or Treq= Second play maker or distributor. Assists the DLP in receiving the ball and dropping it into space or passing it to the WBs. Has back to net almost constantly. Plays a semi-target man role. Uses players who have good technique and good passing abilities.

    Shadow Striker= usually a very fast player. Attacks the net on any chance he gets. Usually a player who can take on multiple players and beat them. Must have good shot and good dribbling ability. Used for counter attacks.

    Poacher= Touches the ball 10x a match at most. Runs the channels and must shoot on every chance he receives. Can not be a player who receives and distributes the ball. If receives ball, must attempt shot as he is usually in the box at all times or running a channel towards the net when receiving a killer pass.

  4. Hi Peter.

    As a Real Madrid fan who has never followed Ancelotti closely, this is very interesting for me.

    I've been reading your comments but I have some questions:

    1. You mention that Carlo usually plays one "poacher" striker and then a "shadow" one.

    But I assume this is with the 4-3-1-2, right? What about the 4-3-2-1?

    This takes me to my next question:

    2. I get the role of the 3 midfielders, but I'd like to better understand what the 2 attacking midfielders will do in a 4-3-2-1.

    Do they have "simmetrical" roles? This is, should we expect 2 players of the same profile playing in those two positions? Or does Carlo mix 2 different kinds of players in that line?

    In my mind, you could have 2 typical trequartistas playing there (Ozil and Isco for example), or maybe two fast wingers with high mobility (Ronaldo and Di Maria). But maybe Carlo will pick one of each type (Ronaldo and Ozil)?

    3. Finally, given Real Madrid's interest in Gareth Bale... How do you see him and Ronaldo fitting into the same starting eleven? Do you see them both playing in the attacking midfielder role of the 4-3-2-1, behind the striker? Or maybe one of them playing deeper as one of the wider 3 midfilders?

    Thanks for your detailed insight on this, all very interesting for me.

  5. Peter, thank you very much for the extra information. I have always seen my highest player as a back-to-goal center forward. Because of this, a gap sometimes develops between by midfield and attack when both of my AM's run off the CF. I think the idea of using one of my attacking mids as a playmaker will alleviate that problem.

    One question I do have is about width. Often times, my fullbacks will get forward and have an opportunity to come inside with the ball. I encourage this when possible because my fullbacks can both shoot from distance. My question would be how to provide width in this situation. What I am starting to do is allow my two "stoppers" to overlap the fullbacks when they come inside. Is this something you see with Ancelotti, or would this expose the defense too much?

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond!!

    -- Sean

  6. Hi fellas,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful article!
    If you want to learn more about soccer sessions I think this is the right place for you!