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Managing Madrid Mailbag: April 7th

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Phew. An active week makes for an active mailbag,

Real Madrid's week was some rollercoaster, and it made for one of the more serious mailbags we've had. No questions about Ted Cruz or hairstyles - all business. From the drunkenness of the victory at Camp Nou, to the utter and complete breakdown in Germany, Madridistas aged two decades this week.

A huge 'thank you' to everyone for bearing with me for getting this mailbag up so late today. It was a day of deadline-chasing and mailbag filtering, but it's done now, and most of you will wake up to this for (hopefully) a nice leisurely read with your morning coffee.

The downside to the increased amount of questions (this week was a record) is that I had to omit quite a few of your tweets, but I tried to make sure I only omitted repetitive questions that have occurred in previous mailbags.

Let's. Do. This.

Given that I haven't followed Ligue 1 this season, I decided to reach out to French Football Weekly's Mohammed Ali who made these observations on Lucas Silva in a Twitter DM exchange:

Essentially, Lucas Silva has been very very poor this season.

It started off well, with Michel practically using his Real contacts to try and get him on loan, the hope being he'd turn out to be another Casemiro. But he's been really poor and has lost his place early on. In the last few months he's been more or less fourth choice.

There was reports that he was ready to be shipped out to Anderlecht in January but that failed. He isn't really on Marseille's level let alone Real Madrid's

If Saturday's victory at the Camp Nou was in fact Real Madrid's identity, then it's clear it's not sustainable, and it's an identity that only manifests itself against teams who will withhold the ball from you. Barcelona are a team Real Madrid can throw counter-punches at because they are set up to do so. They pinch towards the middle when defending, and as soon as they retain possession, Bale and Ronaldo explode to the flanks - stretching the field while anticipating quick distribution from the central midfielders.

Sure, in theory, that's a sound identity to have, but there are only two teams talented enough to out-possess Real Madrid for large stretches of a football match - Bayern and Barca. Beyond that - as was the case in the Volkswagen Arena on Wednesday - Real Madrid are forced to penetrate in a slow-paced build up sealed from all angles. A counter-attack is impossible in a situation like this unless you really drop deep - really, really deep - and most teams know by now know that the best way to play Real Madrid is to close the game as much as possible.

Ergo, the question have Real Madrid found their identity has a simple answer: Only on good days. they still haven't figured out how to breakdown world class teams who give little-to-no space to operate. In a bizarre sense, this team might be more capable of beating Bayern and Barca than they are Atletico should that situation arise.

There is another answer to this question altogether: Real Madrid don't have an identity at all.

Years ago, Jose Mourinho was busy building a team to stop Barcelona - and the residues still linger. In fact, little has changed in the sense that counter-attacking football is still Real Madrid's strongest suit. That was the case with Mourinho, with Ancelotti, and now Zidane. They are at their best when they don't have the ball, and there is not a single team on the planet that can be quite as efficient as Real Madrid on the counter. With Bale and Ronaldo spearheading into space when possession switches over, there isn't any defense that can properly defang them either.

Ronald De Boer had a great line a few years ago: "Madrid's strength is that the other team has the ball and then they rob it and pum pum pum."

Pum pum, man. Real Madrid are really good at puming, but in order for them to pum at an elite level consistently, they have to accept giving the ball up more often.

Three points were picked up in the Camp Nou on Saturday thanks to Zidane's counter-attacking scheme. Defending in a narrow line worked against Barcelona, but interestingly enough, Wolfsburg did the opposite against Madrid - fully knowing that Madrid's strength lies not only through the counter, but through the flanks. If Bale and Cristiano hovered wide to get the ball, the full-backs followed them to stifle space.

There probably was some sort of mental hangover lingering from the Clásico victory which trickled into Wolfsburg, but that can't be the only factor at play. Real Madrid couldn't break down Hecking's organized scheme, and that's a huge problem. If you're a self-proclaimed counter-attacking machine, then you simply can't cache 60% possession and over two hundred more passes than your opponent while failing to threaten. This is not the trait of a counter-attacking team. If counter-attacking isn't an option on every occasion, Zidane needs to figure a way to infiltrate teams who bundle the wings defensively while patiently closing down channels without the ball.

The lack of identity isn't a problem that will be repaired overnight. Heck, it could take years. It goes back to your transfer policy more than anything. Zidane can implement a style all he wants, but it's fruitless if there isn't patience and trust surrounding him. If you have an identity in place, it means you can say I need x player for this position, rather than saying I'm going to sign this player because he's going to be great for the image of the Club. Identity is not something you can form in one game - it's something that could require years of patience.

Fabio Coentrao would be borderline insane if he wouldn't want to come back to Real Madrid as a squad player given his current situation. He doesn't have a ton of leverage these days, and while talented and sound defensively, he's been off the field more than he's been on it - even this season with Monaco.

Real Madrid should just move on.

Coentrao's brilliant performances over two legs against Bayern in the Decima run was probably enough to justify his €30 million signing, and while on paper he's a perfect compliment and defensive alternate to Marcelo, he's the epitome of being injury-prone. There was this recurring - almost amusing - problem that Real Madrid would go through in Coentrao's day, where, every time Marcelo was injured, Coentrao was too. That just became awkward.

Alternates? Someone who's stable defensively while proficient going forward. The trick is finding the right kind of talent. As showcased yesterday, Ricardo Rodriguez can flat out play - but is he overqualified to be Marcelo's back-up? Something to think about.

You've seen it plenty, I'm sure. Barcelona provokes teams to do things that seem worse than they are, creating illusions of hostility while pressuring the referee with every cell in their body. The inevitable happens. The referee runs over full steam and the entire stadium knows what's coming - a red card. It's bogus.

Meanwhile, they will get away with everything they can, and no one can quite explain why. They have a certain aura about them that lets them benefit from the referee's whistle time and time again.

What to do? The fear of a tie being swung due to the referee's incompetence in a potential semi-final date with Barcelona is real, yes.

Do the Warriors really have a parallel in football? I'm not so sure. What Barcelona are doing this season isn't on par to what the Warriors are doing. Maybe Pep's Barca is a better comparison to this Warriors team.

To find an NBA equivalent to Real Madrid, you could probably look to Cleveland - a team with star players who don't utilize their assets to their strength and led by a rookie head coach who will get far due to the conference they play in.

A match against Eibar is looming, and with all due respect to them, Real Madrid should slay them while resting key players. There are some questions in play though. Is it more important to rest Casemiro over Kroos and Modric; and, could Zidane get away with rocking a Kovacic - Isco - James midfield against Eibar? Faint hopes of a La Liga comeback lie quite dormant, and the entire season could come down to what happens at the Bernabeu on Tuesday, so, I say rest everyone you can.

It's nauseating to think about how much fans will continue to fight with me on this, but Real Madrid should undoubtedly be open to other options. For all the chirping of how good Real Madrid is on the counter-attack, that entire system is supported by two things - fast attackers and distribution from the midfield. Casemiro is not the artist to paint that portrait. What he is though, is a really good tackler that adds steel and stability to the midfield in a team that could crumble without him.

And look, that's fine. It will somewhat tide Real Madrid over until this season is done, but it doesn't mean there aren't intriguing options out there that Real Madrid could use as an upgrade, and hey - Casemiro could be a really nice squad player next season.

I wrote about this today. Though the title is misleading, it does point to other fish in the sea.

Danilo's performance last night was the opposite of what was expected of him when Real Madrid signed him from Porto. Let's be clear on something - the decision to start Danilo over Carvajal was bad in hindsight, but perfectly sound before the kick-off. The Brazilian was signed for big games like this - an alternate to Carvajal's dreadful collapse against Juventus in the Champions League last season. You also have to keep in mind that Danilo has been in really good form as of late.

So has Carvajal, to be fair, and one of the best things that's happened to Dani is Danilo's arrival - an arrival that came with fire to light Carvajal's motivation to improve.

If I were Zidane, I would keep Danilo out of every big match for the remainder of the season - however many is left - and keep him for the less important La Liga matches. Danilo's been shaky in games of high magnitude - and that's an understatement. He's a gambling wreck who overcommits on wingers who can eel their way past the onrushing Brazilian with ease.

Opponents will completely puncture Real Madrid's flanks with gambles like that - even moreso when Marcelo is a liability defensively in his own sense on the opposite wing - and Danilo right now has a mental barrier that he needs to overcome in big matches. This season, Real Madrid don't have time to wait for his improvement in these situations, and they need to roll with the safer Dani Carvajal.

Five. Having low expectations helps.

A month ago if you would have told me Real Madrid would need to comeback from a 2-0 first leg deficit to Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals, I wouldn't have been surprised. I see Real Madrid as a lost hope this season with everything surrounding them. This season is essentially a rebuild of sorts - one that you would hope isn't setback even further with a Zidane dismissal.

Any disappointment that manifests itself from this loss comes from the terrible response to the Clásico high. What a roller coaster.

Interesting, but improbable. The fulcrum of this team is still the Casemiro-Modric-Kroos trio, and while Kovacic would be a nice box-to-box presence who could help with a counterpress and apply extra pressure in theory, Zidane hasn't trusted him so far, and it's unlikely he will use Kova as a solution now where he'll be leaning on a safety net to get past Wolfsburg.

From bozz, per our Slack conversation:

Last game was his best. Picked up an assist, involved in almost every goal. Picked up his pace as of late and is making more dangerous passes in the final third.

Disappears way too often and doesn't play a full 90 as much as I want. Makes safe passes too much for someone as talented as him and tends to overdribble when he gets in the box.

I think it was two games ago when he could've had a hat trick if only he had shot the damn ball.

I think it's too early to talk of a Primera loan next season. Promotion and one more year at Castilla would be best for him.

When Real Madrid signed Gareth Bale, they envisioned he would join Cristiano Ronaldo to form the deadliest wing-combo on the planet - two players boasting pace, power, and unparalleled shooting ability. I'm OK with Bale having the green light to shoot. There isn't a single better shooter from distance in world football, and it would be criminal not to take advantage of it.

If Zidane is sacked, there just might end up being riots at the Bernabeu. It would be a risky decision regardless of how this season pans out.

Personally? I'd want Zidane to continue, even if Real Madrid don't advance to the semi-final. Let him develop, let the team go through some losing, and let the team build organically without external turbulence.

It's a dark corridor. Real Madrid, coming back from a two-goal deficit against a team who knows how to stifle offensive flow, in front of a pressure-popping atmosphere where at, any given moment, the fans could turn - it just looks like a disaster waiting to happen.

But hey, there's a chance. Can Real Madrid be aggressive and disrupt Wolfsburg early? Can they rattle them with a quick goal? Can they draw Wolfsburg's midfielders out of their own half to chase the ball and disturb their patient defensive scheme? It's a dark corridor, but there is a faint light at the end of it.