Well, this has been an interesting 24 hours in Earth’s history, hasn’t it? Here’s to sleep-deprived mailbags and the escape of sports to keep us all sane.
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The important thing to remember here is that Casemiro will be ready for the Derbi, and even if he’s not, the club will make sure he is - for good or worse. With that, there’s something to be said about the way Real Madrid read their own reality - Zidane doesn’t trust playing without a pure anchor against Cultural Leonesa, and there’s no way he’ll derail from that ideology against one of the best clubs on the planet.
With Casemiro surely finding himself in the lineup, the rest unfolds a bit easier, and at the very least, in realistic terms, the team sort of picks itself with Modric returning from injury too.
The one spot up left for grabs will go to Kovacic or Isco - and there’s a case to be made for both. Kovacic, for one, has proven he’s much further along the development chart than anyone thought, and looks ready to take on the reigns as a dictator in midfield. He’s been phenomenal this season, an emblematic importance of the intangibles required to bring this team to new heights. Isco, meanwhile, is in form, and it was his pass that broke Leganes in the face of a watertight Asier Garitano blueprint.
And it’s players like Isco and Marcelo that tend to disrupt with their unorthodox styles of play that are conducive to piercing Simeone’s scheme which anticipates attacks at an elite level.
Either option - Kovacic or Isco - would prove to be sound. Atletico’s attack and overall flair has improved three-fold this season, and they’ve done it without sacrificing their combativeness and defensive security, so having Kovacic rip through the field as a box-to-box presence wouldn’t hurt either.
That could very well be a boring answer, but I do think suggestions of Ramos / Danilo as DM, or shifting to a 4-4-2 are not necessarily in the realm of reality at this point given that Casemiro and Modric have returned. It’s important to note that mass-chaos has ensued following the news of Kroos’ injury mostly because people initially thought it would overlap with the Casemiro’s absence, but it won’t.
I’ll just use this question as an excuse to rave about the current crop of potential generational talent that lies within the ranks and scattered throughout the continent. If I were to form a ranking which emphasizes their chance of breaking through into the first team on a permanent and significant basis, it would go: Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente, Borja Mayoral, Diego Llorente, Martin Odegaard, Sergio Diaz.
It’s interchangeable, sure, and to a varying degree, it doesn’t mean a thing - particularly beyond the first two on that list who are all but guaranteed a place in the squad given the leaps they’ve made this season and the need in those positions.
Mayoral is in an awful situation in Wolfsburg, and with each passing game, it’s more apparent that Real Madrid botched both the Mariano and Mayoral deals this summer, doing no favors to the development of either. Of some consequence, the club knows this, and it’s not too late to sort it out. In Mayoral’s case, it’s clear, despite his unideal situation this season, that he’s young enough to bounce back almost immediately from this. Watching him last season in Castilla on a match-to-match basis was pure joy. He’s developed tools to play close to goal but also drop deep and become a creator. He’s going to be fun, this kid.
Underrated: Zidane is still here, and he’s prioritized the development of the ‘kids’ throughout his entire tenure with the club. To this day he keeps just as close an eye on Castilla as he does with the first team. That’s an important vision to have.
Not that there is a right or wrong answer to this, but, Atletico.
The league table is misleading, and yet to even itself out after the appropriate sample size has been applied, and Barcelona look much more vulnerable than Atletico this season. Facing Simeone’s men has been the hardest match on the league schedule for years now, and it’s a hurdle that needs to be overcome.
And not that going to the Camp Nou is easy, of course, but given Barcelona’s struggles, their natural decline in possession and ability to keep their opponent from throwing waves of attacks into their permeable defensive live will always provide BBC - even in their worst form - with multiple chances to score. There’s also something to be said about Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo’s knack for showing up against Barcelona.
No, he hasn’t, and that’s not a bad thing, nor does it diminish the importance of Alvaro Morata. He’s been one of the most important signings this club has had in the past few seasons, and his presence in the squad brings the depth that Jese struggled to bring last season. Morata’s arrival prevents the attack from withering into a lost and tedious offensive system without Benzema on the team sheet.
And Morata’s been great, in many cases outperforming the Frenchman. But those of you who’ve been listening to our podcasts know where I stand on this and it’s clear - Zidane has a point when he says BBC will play when healthy, whether we like it or not.
Outperforming a starter isn’t the only thing that a manager has to gauge when picking his preferred XI. Does said player perform better off the bench? Does his energy and tenacity bring about the collapse of tired defenders? Does rhythm matter?
And this is 28-year-old Karim Benzema we’re discussing here - you know, the peak of an important player who’s been instrumental in bringing out the best of Cristiano Ronaldo. We’re discussing a player who’s scored as many goals as Morata in La Liga in 75 less minutes - and he’s done that while still finding his feet this season.
That’s impressive, and if healthy, he should continue to start. That’s not to say Morata won’t get plenty of playing time regardless. He’ll still get his minutes, to be sure, but we don’t need to be calling for Benzema’s head. Look, I’m sure Jason is not actually insinuating that, but Morata having his starting spot ‘sealed’ is a year or two premature.
subomi, this question actually ended up in this week’s podcast, and we answered it there (right around the 57:10 mark).
It was the right call to renew Ronaldo. Keep in mind that renewing Ronaldo until the age of 36 and playing Ronaldo until the age of 36 are two completely different things we need to distinguish here.
One ensures a morale-boost to arguably the best player that’s ever played for the club, who, also happens to be in a slump while seemingly every one of his team mates - Bale, Kroos, Modric, Ramos, Pepe - have received or will receive a contract extension to solidify the team’s spine.
Somehow, this deal has a short-term feel to it, though - at least on the surface that’s where the fix lies. There’s no question that Ronaldo has struggled this season, and though his decline isn’t sharp, it’s certainly slight, at the very least. In a sense, this contract renewal doesn’t hurt that situation.
But it also doesn’t stop Ronaldo’s inevitable regression - a regression that will come regardless of how much Cristiano will twist our arms and swoon us with his ideas of playing until the age of 41. He also hasn’t considered retiring from the national team anytime soon, and all of of that extra activity doesn’t seem to add up, even for a rare physical specimen like Ronaldo.
At 41, he will still be probably an interestingly good player somewhere, as he will also be at the age of 36, which is important to note because even when Ronaldo is in his mid-30s, Real Madrid can cash in on a marketing machine and a player rich clubs would love to have. Florentino isn’t strangling anyone here.
An obvious - but critical - note is that the economics in football are vastly different from that of the major American sports leagues. Real Madrid haven’t paralyzed themselves here by doing this deal, and in the event of the inevitable day when it’s time to give the keys to Bale and Asensio, Real Madrid can cut ties with Ronaldo cleaner than they could have by letting an uncertain future linger, and a long-term contract ensures that safety-net more than a shorter extension does.
Further due diligence: Please note the above answer is just the tip of the iceberg, and we discussed this more thoroughly during our podcast, and you should also be sure to read Lucas’ perspective which he posted today.
It’s only fair I speak about the three players on the list I’ve seen play thoroughly. I was lucky enough to begin following Real Madrid in 1998, so I was very much a part of Raul’s prime, and de facto, he will go down as my favourite professional athlete that has ever played any sport. Having said that, he wasn’t on the level of Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of sheer efficiency and talent. The numbers speak for themselves. That’s not a slight on Raul or Casillas who are both top 5-10 players of all-time in this club’s rich history, but more an indication of Ronaldo’s unrivalled standards of football.
Di Stefano is who he is - the first superstar and one of the four original football kings. It’s difficult for us to envision what that looked like though apart from lots of reading and YouTube clips. From my perspective, it’s only right I evaluate the players I was able to follow and study on a game-to-game basis.