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Managing Madrid Mailbag: March 3

This week's mailbag is in!

This week's mailbag is shorter than normal, not because there wasn't a plethora of questions, but because I was slapped with a couple deadlines I had to meet today. The answers are very to the point.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed your questions as I normally do. Just a heads up: for the next little while, I won't be answering James vs Isco questions or anything revolving around 'should we sell Ronaldo?'. Those are getting a bit repetitive, and I try to make these mailbags as refreshing as possible.

Let's do it.

Castilla currently boasts the best striker depth-chart in Segunda B, with Mariano scoring 13 goals off the bench (tops in the league) as Mayoral's understudy, the latter of which has an impressive 11 goals on his own - good for third best in the league. Mariano is the more polished of the two, but is also four years older. Given the edge in experience and productivity that Mariano has over Mayoral, it's surprising that it was Borja who's received the nod so far.

But I submit to Zidane's judgement and wisdom here - he knows Castilla better than any of us.

It seems that while Mariano has better numbers, Mayoral has the bigger upside, and given that this question was asked before the match against Levante, the question may have somewhat answered itself with Mayoral's goal yesterday. With the La Liga title out of reach, you could see more games on the schedule where Mayoral gets burn, probably against Las Palmas, Eibar, Getafe, Deportivo - that's assuming Benzema can't play or needs a break.

I tend to differ Castilla question to bozz, and this is what he said about it:

Oy, that's a tough one.

As far as future and skillcap, Mayoral is superior. he'll have the better career.

As far as physical ability and physical development, Mariano is more suited for the first team right now.

Mariano has also been Castilla's super sub and has scored a number of clutch goals when coming off the bench. He's just kind of a nonstop tank that can be useful versus tired legs.

I like Mayoral, but Castilla needs him starting there much more than they do Mariano.

Xabi Alonso succeeded in that role largely because he was a dominant figure and supreme leader / organizer. Real Madrid lack that kind of steel as much as anything in this current team. Veratti is a fantastic player, but even he's not a pure DM, and is relieved by Thiago Motta who does plenty of defensive duties. I'm not sure signing Veratti is a solution to replacing a midfield anchor like Xabi. Having said that, a trio of Veratti-Modric-Kroos is a huge upgrade to what the team boasts now, and Veratti is the most defensively-astute of the three, which would certainly provide more stability. If Perez were to deviate from his ways, rather than going all in on a player like Pogba this Summer, he could make a run for Grzegorz Krychowiak - a selfless and combative midfielder who will provide tremendous stability and edge while allowing Toni Kroos to play in a more advanced position.

The system has to change when Benzema can't play, that much we know, and Real Madrid never looks comfortable playing without Benzema or without a pure striker. It's a price the team pays for not signing a back-up for Benzema, as no one else in the squad can do what the Frenchman does. It would be surprising if Zidane opts for Mayoral in such an important match unless Real Madrid find themselves up 4 or 5 goals on aggregate.

The first question, by the way, was asked (I believe) prior to the match against Levante, so just to be clear, Modric should be back for the Roma clash.

I would pack the midfield with Kroos, Modric, James, and Kovacic; while fielding Isco as the false 9 (not his best position) playing interchangeably with Ronaldo.

Somehow, every week I have something to plug for the mailbag. Unfortunately for all of you, this week is no exception. I wrote about this very question today.

Real Madrid will always be a sweet spot for elite players. It's a massive market to play in and it's riddled with prestige. I'm not sure that part goes away unless the Club spirals into a perpetual dark spell for some decades. Playing for Real Madrid means you'll always be fighting for titles and playing among the best players on the planet while being recognized globally. Sure, there is always the risk of losing your spot or getting lost in the shuffle, but that's not something that will hamper Real Madrid from assembling a strong squad on paper.

Gareth Bale is the most recent example of this. He left a situation where he was the alpha-dog in Tottenham, risking a move to a new country without speaking the language, completely unaccustomed to the system, and shedding his status as the superstar of the team to play in Ronaldo's shadow. He took a leap of faith just to join the Real Madrid project.  The allure is real, and despite how the Club is run, it will probably always have that appeal bar something disastrous happening to the Club.

There is something strange about trying to answer this question now, given that the team is mid-way through a season and still struggling to find it's feet. Real Madrid has had a plethora of different styles since the turn of the century and it's difficult to comprehend what their true style is - the one that brands them on the pitch.

Shuffling through coaches - and in turn, identities - sets the Club far behind the schedule they should be following. It's a tradition that suffocates continuity. None of this is a sudden revelation, but it does make building a squad confusing, since it's baseless in its method and doesn't revolve around a particular philosophy. Real Madrid's most successful team in the modern era possessed a direct possession based system, one that defended by passing the ball in the opposing third.

RIP Real Madrid 2000 - 2003.

The other successful stint the Club enjoyed was the one that began with Mourinho's league title and ended with Ancelotti's Decima. That one was a counter-attacking machine, one that had no quarrels absorbing pressure and exploding with the ball. A hybrid of Mourinho / Ancelotti's scheme and Del Bosque's direct possession-based style of football is an ideal system Real Madrid should adopt and would suit its players beautifully.

Fact: Benzema and Bale can't be blamed for their injuries, and the others who are playing alongside Ronaldo are working hard on the pitch and probably just as frustrated as Ronaldo is. Ronaldo's 'level' has been mediocre for large chunks of the season, and for me, what he said was pretty clear. The statements proceeding the original comments where he felt he had to explain himself by clarifying that he was speaking about 'fitness levels' was just a backtrack.

Even if Ronaldo was talking purely about fitness levels, his statement was entirely cancerous and best kept to himself.

Mike summed up Ronaldo's comments perfectly on last week's podcast.

Verdict: Invalid.

I differed this question to my little sister. I'm actually writing this mailbag from the hospital by her bedside. She's recovering from some emergency operations, so I've been doing most of my work from here, and thought it would be fun for her to answer this question for me. We flipped through pictures of the squad and she shed her opinions on the various hairstyles.

She is, by the way, a Madridista through-and-through. She was with me at Cibeles at 5am the night of la Decima - as vocal as anyone.

Her answers weren't disappointing.

Ronaldo - "That's stupid"

Gareth Bale - "That's nice, but I don't like how his beard blends in with his hair and becomes one"

Karim Benzema - "Boring"

Sergio Ramos - "I like it... That's my favorite! I love how his hair is defined in different areas"

Keylor Navas - "No"

Marcelo - "That looks like fun. I don't like it, but I would play with his hair for sure"

Pepe - "There's nothing there"

Toni Kroos - "It looks so bad. It's flat and greasy"

Danilo - "His hair makes his head look like an egg"

Dani Carvajal - "That's nice, but I don't like his beard"

Jese - "It's too fluffy.. Like a chicken's crown"

Luka Modric - "He looks like an old German woman"

Understanding that building this team organically without revolutionizing it is going to be key to Real Madrid's growth moving forward. It's impossible to claim this team doesn't have all the talent in the World to compete for every trophy imaginable. That it collapses as often as it does points to other issues, most of which have to do with the lack of continuity and identity. I touched on a question similar to this for last week's mailbag, but essentially what Real Madrid needs (apart from selling Ronaldo), is a pure defensive midfielder who can disribute and allow Kroos to push forward. That, mixed with some added depth up front and at the CB / LB positions is all this team needs.

Those are tweaks - not a revolution. Tweaks that would revolutionize this team.

Cristiano Ronaldo is not a failure. Anyone snickering around and saying otherwise should be ignored. He's one of the best players to have played the game, would crack the all-time Real Madrid starting 11, and is one of the most efficient and prolific athletes out there. Forgive me if I'm not understanding the question correctly, but he's not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. His history though, shouldn't impede parting ways with him if it's in the best interest of the Club.

I'm not sure what 'dethroning Messi' means in this context.

I really need to stop biting on questions like this, but they're too much fun for some reason, and I'm going to have to bite again.

I would only sell Cristiano Ronaldo. How many teams have the luxury of saying that? Certainly not many - if more than three. Real Madrid have an exciting direction and are loaded with rising stars, and this Summer would be the one to jump with both feet in on building around the Kroos-James-Bale-Benzema core - a tantalizing young nucleus riddled with game-changing players. They just need a proper supporting cast.

There is some wisdom if Real Madrid decide to stay away from Pogba. The Frenchman is fantastic in his own right, but his best position is in an advanced midfield role playing from the left side - arguably the deepest position on the squad already. Vidal is an interesting choice, but extremely unlikely. Godin shouldn't be turned down if available, but that's another unlikely scenario that's probably not worth discussing.

Time to put on the ol' FM hat and build an imaginary (borderline realistic) squad that would give anyone a run for their money.

Llorente would be a rental here until Mayoral is ready. He's a solid and experienced target man who wouldn't play much but wouldn't cripple the team when Benzema goes down. Other ideas I had for this back-up striker role were Aduriz, Lucas Perez, and Morata - but none of them seemed likely.

Asensio's run with the team would start next season, where he begins being incorporated into the team off the bench.

Krychowiak would be a low-profile signing (not entirely, just relatively) who completely stabilizes the team and changes the complexion and structure of how Real Madrid defends and attacks - no brainer.

Inigo Martinez - if he accepts - becomes part of the four-man rotation and would be a reliable central defender to fill in with injuries / suspensions to Ramos, Varane, and Pepe. Perez could essentially count next season as Pepe's last with the Club, and replace him with Jesus Vallejo in a couple years.

Fabio Coentrao returns from loan. He's a player who is widely unpopular at times, but he's been an important squad player in the past and still young enough to not be forgotten entirely. His performance against Bayern last season still gives me the tingles.

No huge signings, just tweaks. That's my kind of team.

I'm not sure it's wise to sell a player because of frequent injuries. Once upon a time we replaced Arjen Robben with Ricardo Kaka... That didn't turn out so well. Robben, who was widely known as injury prone, went on to have his best spell as a player with Bayern Munich, and Kaka was a bust.

Let's just enjoy the ride. Gareth is here to stay.

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