Real Madrid's Mid-Season Review

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Christmas break is time for our players to have a rest, visit their families and receive the year 2014 with the needed energy to fight for all the competitions we are taking part in. However, it is also time to take a look on the performance of the team so far, analyze our strengths and weaknesses and foresee how the New Year will be like for the merengues.

It may seem like yesterday when some of us had to swallow our tears and say goodbye to our previous coach, José Mourinho, or to some of our players like Özil, Higuaín, Albiol or Callejón, who we hope will be successful in their new clubs, as long as they don't interfere with us. I have a clear memory of the moment when, hoping for a fresh start, we unveiled Carlo Ancelotti as our new coach, or when Isco, Illarra, Carvajal and Bale were introduced to us as new members to strengthen our roster.

However, it's been four months since then. This Real Madrid has played twenty-five official games so far and, therefore, we can have a clear idea now on the new project our team has set up to recover from the disappointing last season: the strategy and tactics our coach has in mind; the best and worst features of our players, their physical condition and the attitudes they are showing; the controversies surrounding our roster and the statements of our managing staff. Definitely, we are in the right position to judge our team's performance during the Fall Term, and this is what we will try to do in the next few lines.

Results:

Analyzing the performance of the team just in terms of the results obtained up to now is not easy, because our output has not been uniform throughout all the competitions.

  • We might say we did our homework in Copa del Rey, since we moved on to the next round against an opponent from a lower category, but without showing any brilliance.
  • In the Champions League, our performance has been terrific. We won our group, with 16 out of 18 points (only equalized by Atlético de Madrid), and we scored the tremendous amount of 20 goals, with a ratio of 3,67 goals per game. Our commander, Cristiano Ronaldo, scored 9 of these goals to become the top scorer of the group stage and become the recordman in this setting.
  • La Liga has been our Achilles heel, somehow. The difficulties yielded by the late entrance in the lineups of important players like Bale, Illarramendi or Alonso, together with the tactical changes proposed by our coach in his chase for the balance, made it really hard for us in certain moments. We lost two games against our direct rivals, Atlético and Barça, and we lost four more points in our draws against Osasuna and Villarreal. We are five points below in the table, which is a long gap, but one that I think we can get back from.

Coaching staff:

Being José Mourinho's successor is not easy, as it was proven when the Portuguese left Porto, Chelsea or Inter. The team led by Carlo Ancelotti landed in Madrid with a double task, as the Eyebrow confirmed in his first press conference: win and play well, as Real Madrid's history dictates. It seems that Carletto's idea of a good way of playing differs in certain aspects on the one José had, and so there was a lot of work to be done in order to change our game style.

I find evident that our coach made a very meticulous study of his roster, and that he had a very clear idea of what he wanted from the beginning of the season. Perhaps, the clearest proof of this idea was the first half against Real Sociedad, on November. The 4-3-3 with long fullbacks, Alonso in the vertex accompanied by two box-to-box players like Khedira and Modric, and the BBC trio upfront to demolish any defense, seemed the masterpiece designed by our coach to get the maximum profit from his roster. Unfortunately, the road to this goal was tortuous, and its beauty was ephemeral due to Khedira's injury.

Carletto's idea was not rigid, though. While pursuing it, he changed the system many times to incorporate each of the players in their best roles and mitigate the weaknesses derived by the absences of some of them. We saw a very low rhythm-based 4-4-2 in the first few games, with Modric and Khedira in the base and Ronaldo upfront; the 4-3-3 aforementioned; and the late days 4-2-3-1, with Isco playing as an attacking midfielder, in front of Alonso and Modric. All systems seem well-prepared in the training sessions, the actors know their functions and they are coordinated: no complaints on this issue.

However, the big games' preparation has not looked as good as we should hope.

  • The match against Atlético de Madrid was terrible. Perhaps trying to disconcert Simeone's men and break their plans, Ancelotti changed some of the essential features of the team in the previous games, but the result was not satisfactory. Modric, who was being our best midfielder, started in the bench and left his spot to a still not tested Illarramendi. Moreover, Carletto decided that our team should start the offensive game through the wings, where Atlético's pressure is more intense, in order to avoid losing the ball in the hole between the centerbacks and the midfielders, where Villa and Costa were strong and could have created goal chances easily. This was not a good idea, since Arbeloa and Coentrao do not excel in this area, and so the first half was fully dominated by Atlético, who was leading by 0-1. The entrance of Bale and Modric after the break did not suffice to make the team react, and nor did Benzema's substitution by Morata, who showed much more will to score than the French, but who was as unsuccesful as him.
  • The situation in the Clásico was quite different. We visited Camp Nou after a couple of good games against Málaga and Juventus. Ancelotti seemed to have found a 4-3-3 system in which the players felt confortable, which was designed to have the today celebrated Ronaldo-Benzema-Bale upfront. However, Alonso was still not available, Bale was not ready, and Benzema was struggling with a lot of difficulties in the previous games, due to his frequent mistakes facing the goal and the subsequent fans' booing. As he confirmed in an interview prior to the game, our coach prioritized experience above anything in this kind of games, so he discarded Illarramendi for the central midfielder position and introduced Sergio Ramos in his spot. In addition, he relegated Benzema to the bench and decided to use Ronaldo, Bale and Di María in the attacking positions, with Bale acting as a central striker. The plan was to avoid Barça's associations in the middle with Ramos there and stop Messi, and to trust in counterattack as the only offensive weapon. Martino reacted well, moved Messi to a wing and designed the scenario for Neymar to excel. The Brazilian accomplished his mission, our counterattack did not work, and the feeling was that Barça was winning 1-0 at the break because we had let them. The entrance of Illarramendi and Benzema completely changed the match, we dominated the second half and could have tied or even won the match, but we were truly unlucky. Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened if Carletto had not been so cautious.

Individuals:

Most of Real Madrid's players are currently performing at the level one should hope from them, but things have not been this way during the last three months. As we have already mentioned, Alonso, Bale and Illarramendi could not enter the team from the beginning, and this made it really hard to them to get fit and catch up with their partners. Their progressive entrance in the lineups caused some imbalances, but they are fully integrated right now.

Ronaldo's progression is worth mentioning. Although he was not scoring many goals in the beginning, his output was truly remarkable. Our coach asked him to work in a more central position until Bale was ready, and to carry out functions he is not used to. With less space to run, he focused in the collective gameplay and made it easier for his partners to stand out. When he was moved to the left wing again, his killer nature was unleashed and we know, happily, what the consequences of this have been. It is also fair to stress the importance of Luka Modric, a player whom I love, and who we spoke a lot about here.

It is not nice to point at a player because of his bad performance, but I think Sergio Ramos' bad performance deserves a few words. We need him at his best to keep our defense at a good level, and I think he has not been at his best physical condition any time this season. Furthermore, and although his appearance and his public statements may suggest the contrary, I believe that harsh words and critics truly affect him, and he has received a lot of them in the last few months. I hope this Christmas break will be good for him, and he will come back as the Kaiser we remember from the 2011-2012 season, where he tyrannized the competition together with Pepe.

Team surroundings:

There is always a big amount of controversy around a big team like Real Madrid. The tension with the press had reached inimaginable levels during last season but it seems that, now that Mourinho is gone and Ancelotti is our coach, the situation is a bit more calm.

However, the biggest reason to create this tension is still open. The eternal Casillas-López debate is material for headlines week after week, and, although many people are happy with Carletto's judgement of Solomon, I feel that some media, or some particular journalists, will keep putting pressure on the team until Iker gets to be in the lineups for every game.

The gossip regarding players who may come or leave the team are continuous. Ronaldo's contract extension in September was great news for us, but we have not succeeded on doing the same with Alonso, who would be free to leave the team by June 30, and who will execute this right according to Marca. Di María is also said to be unhappy, due to the reduction of his importance in the team with Bale's arrival, and some people claim he will leave the team for Mónaco this winter. Both the player and the coach have stated that this will not happen.

This is my vision of the team so far. It is now time for you to come here and share your opinions and predictions with the rest of the community!

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