We’re in the midst of a very heavy, intense part of the schedule. With Sporting and Villarreal ‘out of the way’, Real Madrid set their sights to two very difficult away games - one in Gran Canaria, followed with one in Dortmund.
To help us with our match coverage, we’re continuing our Q&A trend by reaching out to knowledgeable journalists who write about our upcoming opponents. In this case, the very, very excellent Jamie Kemp answered some questions I threw at him in a very insightful way. Make sure to give Jamie a follow on Twitter, he’s generally the ‘go-to’ dude when it comes to Las Palmas UD.
Kiyan: Kevin-Prince Boateng - just how much is his absence going to effect Las Palmas' offensive flow against Real Madrid? He seems to have been really good this season so far, and has scored a couple brilliant goals.
Jamie: He's had a good impact so far, but in terms of the offensive flow against Madrid, I don't think it's too significant a loss. Boateng is still some way behind where Las Palmas need him to be in terms of match fitness/sharpness, and the competition in the squad is as tight as it has been for a long time. With Boateng dropping out, the team loses his presence and personality, but at the same time, the replacements will bring things that he can't yet offer. And the squad is so well-immersed in Setien's ways, that the preservation of the team's philosophy won't be hindered with the fall of one player.
Kiyan: On a per-game ratio, Las Palmas have already doubled their scoring output from last season. What's changed?
Jamie: Honestly, I don't think a great deal has changed. The start of this season has merely been a continuation of the back end of last season, from around February onwards. Setién knows Las Palmas can control games, and that they can create chances; it's how the team live without the ball is what concerns him. I think with better defensive organisation, which is an on-going focus for him and his staff, it's actually made them a more efficient team in attack, and probably been the main driver behind this initial rush of goals. We've seen plenty of them come as a product of defending resolutely as a block, frustrating their opponent, and then breaking with speed. If they can maintain and improve that ability to counter-attack over the course of the season, it'll make them a very flexible offensive side.
Kiyan: I've been really impressed with how well Las Palmas attack, even from the counter. Their 4th goal against Valencia was the perfect example of how their counter can break your back. Do you think Quique Setien will bring that kind of approach this weekend?
Jamie: The approach will always be the same for Setién, no matter the opponent: Las Palmas want the ball. It's where they are most comfortable, and that goes for all phases of the game. They can control the tempo that way, create chances, and perhaps most importantly, defend with the ball. It's no secret that they can be vulnerable defensively; learning to suffer is very much an on-going process for the team, but dominating the ball offers a temporary remedy to it. If they can do what they did in this game earlier in the year, in terms of staying compact and prolonging their possession when viable, Setién will be confident in their prospects.
Kiyan: Stemming from the transfer window, which change do you think has been the most important, or most conducive to the team's impressive run?
Jamie: Continuity. They kept their coaching staff, and made an incredible effort to keep all of their key players around. With the exception of Boateng's arrival, it was a quiet summer for Las Palmas, and that's just the way they wanted it. They strengthened the squad without fuss and allowed plenty of time for Setién to continue the implementation of the team's philosophy. Before they beat Granada 5-1, Paco Jémez spoke about the advantage Las Palmas had coming into the season, in terms of the fact that with every other issue addressed, the only focus was on the team and its strategy. Not many teams in Spain could say that this summer.
Kiyan: Is their form sustainable? Where do you see them ending up on the final match day?
Jamie: The playing approach is sustainable, but the results might be a different matter. Even though they play such confident football, the reality remains that this is a team with one of La Liga's smallest budgets, with a squad populated mainly by local players. The objective for this season is to avoid relegation, just as it was last season. We saw at Anoeta recently how things can go on any given night, when you're not blessed with a multi-million euro squad. The philosophy will carry Las Palmas most of the time, but not every week. The trick has to be cashing in when they're on the crest of the wave, and surviving when the football isn't quite as fluent. Setién knows their reality better than anyone.
Kiyan: As you know, Casemiro has suffered an injury - as has Marcelo. It's ironic, because those are the two positions Madridistas were worried about this season given we have no natural replacement for Casemiro and Coentrao is, well, barely available. In other ways, Marcelo's defensive liability will be replaced by Danilo who's been solid there, and Kroos should slide back with Kovacic sliding into the starting XI, providing better dictatorship and technical ability in the midfield. How do you think these changes suit (or not suit) Las Palmas?
Jamie: I think no Casemiro is good news. That zone of the pitch which the Brazilian covers is vital for Las Palmas to be successful, given their 4-1-4-1 system, and I felt there were some notable breakdowns in protecting the back four against Villarreal without him. I'm not Casemiro's biggest fan as a player, but I don't doubt that his physicality and intensity would have made life difficult for the likes of Jonathan Viera in that area of the pitch. Even merely for the fact he's a midfielder with natural defensive instinct, his absence should aid the home side if they can achieve the type of approach they're looking for.
Kiyan: Is there something you'd personally like to see Setien adjust for, in his approach to this particular game?
Jamie: The only thing I hope to see when I watch them is that they play with belief. Their technical ability is far better than most realize, given the make-up of the squad, but if you watch them on a regular basis you'll be left with no doubt. Las Palmas can't be afraid of what Madrid possess, and offer a watered down version of a face-saving performance, instead of a full-capacity performance playing the way they always do. Perhaps it's a cliché, as is often trotted when a smaller team takes on one of the big two sides, but it really is that simple. Las Palmas have to believe they can match Madrid technically, given the style that now oxygenates the team.