International Soccer

Stoppage Time: Ancelotti just keeps winning

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

( - In the build up to the 2014 Champions League final between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, much of the attention was centered on Atletico's manager, Diego Simeone, and with good reason.

After all, Simeone pulled off one of the most improbable runs to the league title in recent years, guiding Atletico to its first La Liga crown since 1996 and the first by a team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona since the 2003-04 season.

One of Simeone's players, midfielder Tiago, even compared the manager to God, saying: "I think for us, for all the club, he's like a God. He arrived to the club and changed everything. What he says comes true.

"If he asks us to jump from a bridge, we jump. I think he knows a lot of football. We as a group follow him, and we're very proud to have him as a coach."

On the other side was Ancelotti, a man who wasn't compared to a deity by any of his players, but who simply possesses a great tactical mind and who has made a habit of winning wherever he goes.

The 54-year-old guided AC Milan to a league title in 2003-04 and he helped the Rossoneri capture their first Champions League title in nine years in 2003 before adding another in 2007.

He then moved on to England to lead Chelsea to a league and FA Cup double in 2010 before stopping in France, where he picked up a Ligue 1 crown with PSG last season.

Ancelotti then arrived in Spain last summer, where he inherited a team with superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Such a talent-rich roster brings with it serious expectations, especially at a club like Real Madrid, where trophies are viewed more as a birthright than an achievement.

But Ancelotti has handled the pressure with the poise and calm of a true veteran, guiding Real to a pair of trophies in his first season with a steady hand.

Finishing third in La Liga is usually enough for a manager at Real Madrid to receive his pink slip, but Ancelotti proved his worth in both the Copa del Rey and especially the Champions League, which saw Real capture its record 10th European Cup.

At no point during the season was Real tested more than a 13-day stretch in April that saw the team play four games across three competitions, including two games against defending European champions Bayern Munich and one against bitter rivals Barcelona.

Real started the run with a 2-1 win over Barca in the final of the Copa del Rey that saw Bale score the winning goal in the 85th minute.

One week later, it was on to another challenge in another competition as Real held off Bayern for a 1-0 first-leg win in the Champions League semifinals thanks to a well-executed game plan that saw Real take the game to Bayern and hit on the counter when the opportunity presented itself.

Three days later the team avoided a letdown with a 4-0 triumph over Osasuna in La Liga before scoring a stunning 4-0 win over Bayern in the return leg in Germany.

It helps that Real has a deep squad to deal with such a congested fixture list, but Ancelotti's guidance through that gauntlet was invaluable as the club put itself in position to have a chance at winning the treble.

Ultimately Real's La Liga challenge fell short, but Saturday's 4-1 extra-time victory over Atletico was symbolic of the type of impact that Ancelotti has had on Los Blancos this season.

With Real trailing 1-0 at halftime through a goal from Atletico's Diego Godin, Ancelotti decided to turn up the pressure on Real's neighbors with a pair of substitutions in the 59th minute that saw the more offensive-minded Isco replace midfielder Sami Khedira, while Marcelo was brought on for Fabio Coentrao at left back with the Brazilian getting forward and creating offense.

Later in the match, Ancelotti decided to bring off forward Karim Benzema, who was laboring a bit, and replace him with Alvaro Morata, who freshened up the Real attack.

Simeone, meanwhile, took a major gamble at the start of the game by playing leading scorer Diego Costa despite the forward carrying a hamstring injury that had him listed as a major doubt before the game.

And that chance backfired as Simeone was forced to bring Costa off after just nine minutes, which proved crucial later in the game with Atletico working on tired legs and having run out of substitutes as the match reached extra time.

Ancelotti's subs, however, changed the tone of the game as Marcelo scored in extra time while both Isco and Morata helped Real pin Atletico back in its defensive third for much of the second half and extra time.

The Italian may not get the credit of someone like Simeone, but on Saturday, he proved that he is among the top managers in the world.

And his record certainly speaks for itself.

05/24 19:37:00 ET

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