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MM Mailbag: UEFA Shortlist, Super Cup, Tactics

Answering your tweets from the past week.

The ever-fun written mailbag was due to for a return after a hiatus which featured several live FB videos in its stead for the past several weeks. In truth, I enjoy writing articles more than anything, and those live videos will be plenty once the season rolls around, so I was glad to finally churn out a written mailbag.

But here's a twist - don't expect much, just the bare minimum. I'm on the road, travelling without wi-fi, so I saved your tweets last night in order to read them offline today before hot-spotting my phone to publish this article. I'm sending those of you whose tweets I didn't get to my sincere apologies, but in a blatant sympathy call, you should know that I get road-sick easily, and I could only write so many words before my head started to spin.

Right then.

This is the moment I've been waiting for since the day Zidane said ‘Gareth Bale was born to play for Real Madrid'. How long did it take for Madridistas to eventually accept Bale - some of them still haven't - and realize he was worth every penny spent on him?

How many times did a Madridista's rationale burst into flames when Mesut Ozil started carving out defensive lines with slick through-balls at Highbury in his first year while Bale was still finding his feet?

Oh, did Bale score on his debut? Yeah, but it was just a tap-in.

But didn't he score a free-kick bomb in the Champions League? Dude, against Galatasaray's stagnant goalkeeper.

Is he really a bust, I mean, that goal from 35 yards that went in off the underside of the crossbar was vintage Bale. Against Elche. Let's see him do that in a big game.

Slicing into Juve's defence and squeezing in a shot past Buffon? Juve is not an elite team, and it was just a group stage game.

So the narrative continued to unfold.

Bartra was injured, on his last legs, slow. Running fast is not a skill.

That goal was all Di Maria.

As if positioning and directing a header while hanging in the air is no feat. The goal that brought us La Decima has turned into one of the most underrated finishes in Real Madrid's history.

So my thoughts, Om? It's about God damn time that he makes this shortlist. He's thoroughly deserved it.

Imagine taking a leap to a place where the pressure is so ominous it could pop your brain open. Imagine going to a new country, a new league, adopting a new language, playing at the Apollo of World football - a stage that has booed club legends Raul, Zidane, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Three years later, Bale's won two Champions League titles, a Copa Del Rey, and has taken Wales into a deep European Championship run. He's special, generational, under-appreciated.

Not bad either: Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Ronaldo really cemented his status among the all time greats by winning the Euros - a feat that only highlighted his fantastic season where he carried Real Madrid on his back during crucial moments. They wouldn't have achieved what they did without him, nor without Bale - and in truth, without many others. This team is deep, and it's telling that so many of Zidane's squad members drew attention in this year's Euros.

Griezmann deserved to be there too, of course, and though you could make a case for Luis Suarez squeaking in over Bale or Griezmann, it's just really fun and refreshing to see a new shortlist - Cule-free at that.

Ideally, nothing changes. I'm a proponent of building a system that seamlessly shuffles players when needed without overhauling the scheme. There are few teams on the planet where, if their best player picked up an injury, it would be nonessential for them to rework their blueprint - Real Madrid is one of them. It's encouraging that Zidane was able to shape-shift his approach several times last season based on the opponent and available players, but none of his shakeups were dramatic enough to change his scheme completely. With Ronaldo out, doors open elsewhere. This is a terrific opportunity to slide in James on the right wing while lining Gareth Bale up on the left. In this scenario, Real Madrid gets to ride the form of two wingers who are at peak level stemming back to their performances on the international scene this summer, and in positions where they made their name at Tottenham and Monaco respectively.

Sure, Alvaro Morata can spot up in a 4-4-2 alongside Benzema, but this really isn't Real Madrid's best available formation or lineup if Ronaldo or Bale can't play, and though Zidane is tinkering with the idea, I truly hope he stays away from it unless he's really left with a depleted squad. The depth chart behind Ronaldo and Bale is so incredibly stacked that Zidane doesn't ever need to balk away from his proven 4-3-3.

He's still in a tough spot.

Zidane wants Asensio to stay - I mean, who wouldn't? - so it won't be an isolated or gloomy season for him, but I don't expect Asensio to get anywhere close to his 2833 minutes from last season's stint with Espanyol. Morata will eat up Jese's 800+ minutes and then some, while Asensio's biggest competition will come from Lucas Vasquez and James Rodriguez - and when Ronaldo is back, it will be even tougher for Asensio to break through.

Asensio's versatility does put him at an advantage though. He spent a good chunk of his time last season on the right wing, but he can play from the left just fine, and is a creator from that flank as well. This may even give him an opportunity to play a more immediate role until Ronaldo comes back. But these questions are going to be much easier to answer come September when the squad is finalized. I touched on this briefly in my breakdown of Jese's transfer, but don't be surprised if one more player leaves this summer despite Jese's departure and despite the impending transfer ban. The AM position is still borderline-cluttered.

Six. These games are far less memorable than other coveted European knockout ties, or even a Clasico or a derby. These moments are more about counting trophies at the end of the season, and really only seem crow-worthy if they're adding to a treble campaign. Four is clearly more impressive than three.

Don't get me wrong, there is also a lot of intrigue surrounding this game. Sevilla is nearly starting from scratch this season, and from a neutral eye, fans will want to see how Vietto does in his new role, how Sevilla's new scheme looks, and how they will cope in the post-Krychowiak/Gameiro/Emery era.

From a Madridista perspective, there is a ton to keep an eye out for. This will be the first official competitive match of the season, the first where Zidane won't make thousands of substitutions, and the first that will give us an accurate glimpse of Zidane's ideologies and coping strategies in Ronaldo's - and a few others' - absence.

Let's remember how compelling the Super Cup was two seasons ago, when Real Madrid thoroughly dominated Sevilla, Toni Kroos looked like he had been with Real Madrid his whole life, and Gareth Bale showed how dangerous he can be when morphed into a free-role, zipping from flank to flank while throwing Sevilla's defenders in a frenzy.

I have a hard time seeing the press work consistently this season, but it's one of those things that would pay off tremendously if pulled off properly, and it's one of the best forms of defense a team can put out - a pragmatic way to keep the opposition hounded before they can reach your backline. But the idea is relatively unprecedented as an embedded identity at Real Madrid. One of the hardest, and generally last things, a football side can learn from a tactical perspective is a proper high press, and its a system that every singly player has to buy into. In a press, you're only as strong as your weakest presser, and if at any point throughout the scheme the gap isn't just right, the whole system can be dangerous and overthrown. Barcelona are a tricky opponent to do this against, for example, due to their tremendous ability to maneuver with the ball out of their backline and launch attacks. Certainly, using the press with an ever-shuffling and dynamic team in the ICC isn't great foreshadowing to how it might apply to the regular season, but it's something we could learn more about in the Super Cup. Real Madrid has the right players to play a pressing scheme, but it requires a ton of cohesiveness, trial-and-error, and continuity.

Everything will be just fine. I'm not sure the opening schedule is tough relative to the rest of the season - in fact, it's kind. Apart from the opening La Liga match-day - away to Sociedad - the League schedule is straightforward all the way through to November. Last season, Gareth Bale stepped up like the behemoth he is in Ronaldo's absence, and I expect him to do some major stat-padding next season without the Portuguese ace too. Not to mention Morata is here and the team has depth everywhere across the pitch to compensate for any niggling knocks or rust the team may have to start the season.

Everything, will be alright.

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