It has been the perfect January for Real Madrid: eight wins in eight games, with 17 goals for (and average of 2.1 per game) and none against. This flawless start to 2014 has taken them up to within a point of the leaders (at the start of the year they were five points adrift of Barcelona and Atlético) and the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.
And that’s not all: this rich vein of form means they have broken the club record for the first month of the year. The last Madrid side to win all their games in January was when Juande Ramos was in the dugout, winning five out of five. However, that side didn’t play in the Copa del Rey as they were knocked out by Real Unión.
The next challenge is to equal the eleven victories in the start of the calendar year achieved in both 1961 and 1963. Ancelotti’s men are on the right track as the Italian coach has expertly steered his squad through the cluttered January fixture list – a game every three days – and has found the balance he was looking for in a change of system. After the first two games of the year (against Celta and Osasuna) he moved from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, accommodating an angry Di María – who even asked to leave – into the first eleven and moving Isco to the bench as he struggled to find room in the 4-3-3 formation (he has disputed 279 minutes).
First-team regulars: Ancelotti currently has his first eleven with two established rotations: in goal, depending on the competition, and the other at right-back, where Arbeloa and Carvajal alternate from one game to the next. Apart from these variations he has his ‘magnificent nine’: Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Modric, Xabi Alonso, Di María, Bale, Benzema and Cristiano, with the last two standing out for their five goals in the Madrid's magical month of January. Illarramendi and Jesé are the substitutes that have played the most minutes in this month , with 433 and 317 minutes, respectively. The only players not to be used were Jesús (the third keeper) and Khedira and Varane, both injured.
These performances have not come about by mere chance; Ancelotti’s side have not lost since 26 October (2-1 versus Barça in the Camp Nou) and with their win against Espanyol they equalled the 20-game unbeaten run when Mourinho was at the helm in the 2011-2012 season. The difference is that during that run they drew five times, whereas in the current one they have only drawn three (Juventus, Xàtiva and Osasuna).