Last season was an unbelievable roller-coaster that didn't take too long to shift Madridistas to the edge of their seats. From the onset, Real Madrid lacked a certain level of decisiveness which led to a slip in domestic form they never recovered from.
Although the team didn't always seem entirely comfortable in key matches against some of the best sides in Europe, the Champions League was full of bright moments and every second contested in the tournament burned with real intensity.
Real Madrid didn't always seem entirely comfortable in key matches against some of the best sides in Europe
The European competition played setting to some memorable occasions: the Home Turnaround featuring a stunned Manchester City, the Clinical Dismissal starring a hopelessly unsuspecting Manchester United and the Estadio Santiago BernabéuStandoff co-headlined by a momentarily dazed Borussia Dortmund.
The Cup; as if a final exclamation mark in a grand scheme orchestrated by some lost soul - who fortuitously came across the Master Destiny Control Room - in the heavens, Atlético Madrid, benefiters of karmic charm, stormed our sacred home and despite our best contestations walked away with a prized jewel.
The Supercopa de España victory; for all of its non-relevance, it remains an integral piece of the team's amazing series of matches against the Blaugrana.
Out of the gates at walking pace: 1 point from 2 games and 4 from 4 are dismal returns hardly ever associated with triumphant campaigns. Starting strong is vital.
The league draw at Camp Nou: that game (more specifically the opening exchanges) was one of the most riveting displays fans have had the chance to witness. The early interplay and fast transitions led to two incredible sequences of play. The first being Ronaldo's goal and the second Benzema's strike against the post.
Black and Yellow Barrage: so many things, all of them wrong, at exactly one precise moment.
Developing into a better dramatic turn than an Oscar winning film, the publicized confrontations of team personalities did not lend credibility to Real Madrid's aspirations.
The underwhelming performance of the team exposed several shortcomings that need to be explored and appropriately considered.
In keeping with the team's image, Real Madrid had players from three continents - and 8 different countries - in 2013 with only the influence of North America, Asia, Antarctica and Australia lacking. Relatively speaking, this positioned the team as one of the more diverse bodies in Spanish sport but it isn't necessarily reflective of a cultural mosaic.
Cristiano Ronaldo is our most productive contributor in terms of goals. He stands clearly above the other two (au revoir Pipita) attacking mainstays in the past four seasons. He has been our top marksman in the three major competitions during that period occasionally sharing the title with Benzema or Higuaín for individual competitions. This chart illustrates the marvel of our prodigious resource, a reliable goals manufacturer - underlined by an effectiveness which constitutes an essential component of his increasing value to the team and burgeoning legacy. He has managed to maintain a better than 1:1 goal to game ratio in over 200 games in the White shirt. Simply stunning.
One thing that is immediately apparent is Benzema's improved (2011 jump coincided with Mourinho's arrival) production in cup competitions, particularly within a contextualized (player comparison) view matching Ronaldo's Champions League and Copa del Rey goal tallies in 2011 and 2012 respectively. He has clearly outshone his primary striking competitor in the cups in the last three seasons hence his nickname as "Mr. Champions League". Benzema's high performance in the Cups undermines theories that Ronaldo's presence in the team limits - as can be evidenced by corresponding dips ( 2011, 2013) in Higuaín's form to the spikes in Ronaldo's - the involvement of the team's strikers.
At face value, there doesn't appear to be anything overly spectacular about Higuaín's strike rate during these past seasons. There are some alarming indicators of stagnation: very low production in Cup competitions with high points of 3 (CL) and 1 (CdR) in the past four years.
[Higuaín's Cup goals record] pales in comparison to the numbers of the game's elite forwards
These figures pale in comparison to the numbers of the game's elite forwards. Another indicator pertains to a stark decrease in League goal scoring in 2011. He somewhat recovered in 2012 but has yet to match that incredible year where he was the team's top goal scorer. This links to the theory that the league is his domain of expertise as he has outscored Benzema in three of the past four years, granted not by much in 2012 and 2013.
Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo maintains the highest percentage of goals scored per appearance and minutes using the least amount of games and time to put the ball in the back of the net.
These charts further show that 2011 was a particularly important year for Benzema with significant improvements in both appearances and minutes per goals metrics.
There appears to be a correlation between the total number of minutes and striker efficiency. In 2010, the significant discrepancy (difference of >90 mins/goal) between Higuaín/Ronaldo's high minute/goals and Benzema's low ratio was mirrored in the total minutes played (difference of ~1200 minutes in total time). Moreover, although with marked exceptions in the past two years, it can be concluded that the amount of time played does concretely play into a striker's efficiency.
The preferred Striker:
Without a single doubt, it is the French cat. Benzema seems wired for pulsating adrenaline filled back-against-the-ropes types of moments. He steps up when it is required or at least has shown a definite semblance to do so. One thinks of his impact against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at home and his brilliance cannot be denied. If he can discover that killer instinct for the league, Madrid would have in their possession one of the most coveted individuals in the sport.
Sergio Ramos has accumulated the most cards out of all the defensemen over the past four years with a grand total of 64 (two yellows counted as 1 red). Next in line is Arbeloa who has 49 followed by Pepe's 39. This makes Varane's 2013 average of 2,755 minutes per card all the more remarkable. Ramos, Pepe and Arbeloa each have 2013 averages of 232, 379 and 243 minutes per card respectively. The leftbacks fare slightly better with 426 minutes per card for Fábio Coentrão and 720 for Marcelo for the recently passed season.
The defense won a staggering 35.70 aerial duels per game in 2013 compared to 12.2 (2012), 10.99 (2011) and 14 (2010) in previous years. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what lead to this extraordinary rise - whether it was Varane's introduction to the starting line-up or some tactical change in defense (increased frequency of high defensive lines). This figure still however represented a near 10% drop (from 80% to 70%) in percentage of total aerial duels won per game from 2012.
The preferred starting center back pairing at the end of last year emerges as highest contributor to the above statistic. This trend shows a decrease in Pepe's number of aerial duels won per game from 1.8 in 2010 ( a mere difference of 0.2 from Ramos) to 1.2 in 2013 further overshadowed by Ramos's extreme 2013 average of 3.65 aerial duels won per game.
While there is a general correlation between height and aerial duels won, the Champions League chart shows there are certainly other factors at play.
The Preferred Defense:
Marcelo: he is improving defensively, maturing and continues to be an important support to the attack
Ramos: a vital organ of the Madridismo beast, beyond his obvious technical and physical attributes, he is the leader of the backline and has a great connection with Pepe and Varane.
Varane: one of, if not the most, exciting footballing prospect (if it still qualifies) in the world; incredibly composed and unfailingly competent.
Arbeloa/Carvajal: both offer different advantages with Arbeloa providing a level of defensive assurance while the young U23 international is involved in much more activity along the wing.
Ángel di María's figures feature heavily at the bottom of the scale for pass statistics. He had the worst passing success percentage of the considered (only 5+ assist seasons) midfielders for the two main competitions of the last year averaging just 74.60% and 71.90% in the Champions League and League respectively.
The second "worst" passer was Ronaldo with a combined 2013 average of 77.95% (4+ percentage points above di María's) for both competitions. While it is by no means definitive, some degree of significance should be placed on the players' positions. It isn't entirely coincidental that the two individuals with the lowest passing success percentages spend the majority of their playing time on the wings.
Moving along the scale, the strikers arrive next with Benzema averaging slightly higher than Higuaín continuing a pattern of statistics showing minor favor to the French man. Higuaín fell just under 80%; a full one percentage point behind his fellow striker.
Next are the defensive midfielders with Khedira and Alonso accurately placing 83.45% and 82.75% of their passes respectively during the 2013 continental and domestic campaigns. Although their numbers would suggest little disparity in passing effectiveness and ability, Alonso's penchant for long passes is a key factor. Khedira, while mostly conservative with his passing choices has developed a greater intent for direct play with forward passes in the last year.
The central attacking midfielders are next in line; Mesut Özil posting 85.30% as compared to Kaká's 84.10%. These ‘maestros' are very adequate precision passers who benefit (and suffer at times) ever so slightly from playing in the most enclosed space of the attacking zone. They always have available passing options but are required by their position to seek more adventurous outlets (something more poignant with the wingers). Unlike other players at even levels, there is a difference of almost ~2,400 minutes in total playing time between the two #10's which provides some counter to the argument that playing time greatly affects level of performance.
At the very top of the passing success accuracy mountain stand last year's newcomers Essien and Modrić - the Croatian's 88.55% just barely edged the Ghanaian's 87.60%. Essien played very conservatively to great effect last year as he made much larger contributions outside of this particular arena. However, his appearances in varied - albeit passing "friendly"- positions does put his measured passing into perspective. Modrić's case isn't particularly surprising as he is an extremely composed player who has the ability to hold the ball while searching for clear passing options. Furthermore, he perhaps also benefits from the charm of a purely central midfielding role as he is, like a CAM (where he also significantly featured), surrounded by the most distribution channels.
Assist Statistics Highlights:
Özil is the most consistent and productive Assist man maintaining a +.44 assist per game ratio over the course of his Madrid career.
Benzema has grown into his creating shoes assisting at a much faster rate each season during these past three years.
Ronaldo has maintained a good level of production managing 15 (2013) , 15 (2012) and 12 (2011) assists these last three seasons.
Ángel di María had the most efficient assisting season performance of the past 3 years
Higuaín has also been a fairly consistent contributor (~8 average) falling victim to minutes played as he provided more assists per minute played than Ronaldo all of the last three years.
Modrić has assisted at less efficient rates than Alonso and Khedira
Ángel di María had the "best" and most efficient assisting season performance of any of the considered players for the last three years as he produced an assist every 131 minutes in the 2011/2012 season.
Ronaldo: glory awaits any man willing to achieve it;
Ángel di María: too important to be an outcast;
Luka Modrić: renaissance man;
Özil: finest footballing courier in town: puts it where it's needed when it's needed;
------------: the glass formation fits a remaining player's attributes - but which one?
Statistics in football provide a decidedly one-dimensional outlook on the characteristics of a team and its players. While some of the evidence - such as Ronaldo's propensity for scoring, Modric's passing, Ramos' disciplinary record and Ozil's vision - cannot be debated, other suggestions aren't quite as clear cut. It is however interesting to visualize the performance of the players within a standardized context.
Real Madrid have added to their impressive roster this summer and it remains to be seen exactly how the new coaching staff will utilize the men at their disposal and how the near future will compare to the recent past.