These observations - where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts - are now a regular weekly thing. All previous editions can be found here.
The evolution of Casemiro
The evolution of Casemiro may or may not be a real thing. For the past two games, it’s been very real - though we need a larger sample size to prove it over time. In the first leg of the Copa Del Rey Round of 16 clash against Sevilla, Casemiro churned out his best performance of the season. He recovered possession high up the pitch with tremendous pressing, chased Sevilla’s midfielders into the ground, provided cover for the wing-backs by doubling-up on the flanks while snuffing out passing lanes, and looked composed on the ball - more than ever.
Fans were cautious, as they should be. You wouldn’t be blamed for chalking up Casemiro’s stand-out game as an anomaly. Opposing coaches have learned that a key to breaking Real Madrid (‘break’ is a relative term, given the team just refuses to lose) is to hound Casemiro and exploit his discomfort on the ball. We’ve discussed this enough to make your brain explode. Zidane didn’t allow Sevilla to do this in the first leg, and Sampaoli’s scheme was paralyzed.
But there was always concern heading into the 2nd leg, where Casemiro would have to fight off hellfire in the Sanchez Pizjuan against a gung-ho Sevilla team that needs goals and has little to lose. Those thoughts were confirmed to start, when Sevilla launched waves of attack against a Real Madrid side that surrendered defensive structure in search of an away goal. Here, Casemiro’s eagerness to chase the ball in an ineffective press, leads him to hedge away from the midfielders in-behind him. From there, Sevilla are a few easy passes away from reaching their target and exploiting space before crossing it into Danilo. Casemiro was caught.
The nitpicking stops there. This lapse wasn’t fuelled by a Sevilla press, and both Casemiro and Kroos recovered back into their positions to get behind the ball well enough before Real Madrid eventually conceded from a cross. When the dust is settled, we can shift blame from Danilo to the gambles leading up to it, or vice versa. The team suffered from a few dominoes here.
For the 2nd consecutive game, Casemiro did a lot of good while barely putting a foot wrong, and that’s very encouraging. His play further bolsters a ridiculous depth chart and gives Zidane confidence to play nearly everyone in the squad at any point without worrying about drop-offs.
Here, Casemiro does well to make a strong tackle without committing a rash foul before recycling possession:
About 15 seconds before that, Casemiro was all the way on the left flank, receiving a pass in a tight spot before sneaking his way out of it by turning wide and sliding it to the outlet Marcelo who had cut inside.
Asensio is fun
His goal sent ripples across the universe and into various dimensions that science has yet to discover, but let’s remember his play as a whole too. He exploited open space for Real Madrid’s first goal, but he also found space when it didn’t exist. I loved this wizardry from him in the first half, where, just when everyone in Seville thought Asensio was going nowhere, he used his Spidey-sense to find Alvaro Morata from an avenue that was seemingly closed.
Another big game, another terrified Danilo
Look, I love me some Danilo - I have ever since his Porto days (throwback to my first ever football article, which is now cringeworthy to read). But on Thursday he was a disaster in so many ways. Erase his own-goal from your memory (Gabe and I talked about how he could have dealt with the cross better on Thursday night’s podcast) and things still look grim. His legs were heavy, and he looked mortified to receive a pass on many occassions before fluttering his way into a defender and ceding possession.
Here, a clumsy touch is bailed out by a foul:
Danilo is a fine player, by the way. But something psychological has gotten in the way of his first touch, blitzing runs, and thunderbolt belters from 40 yards - particularly in big games. He looks solid in general matches when acting as a band-aid for Carvajal and Marcelo, but is visibly unnerved when the stakes are high. Some players are great when suiting up their boots for other colours, like Asier Illaramendi who always looked, and still looks like a serviceable player for Real Sociedad. Maybe, just maybe Danilo is of the same mould and needs a different ambiance to succeed.
Hey, while we’re at it, I did enjoy this sequence when Danilo and Lucas pressed efficiently on the flank:
Almost everyone who tried to convince you that Martin Odegaard was a bust two years ago is still trying to do so without any kind of shame or moral compass. Just yesterday, BeIn released an embarrassing video which deemed Odegaard a ‘failed galactico’. This week, AS also wrote a piece on Odegaard’s ‘failures’. There is a strong chance none of these journalists have the pure joy of watching Odegaard week-in week-out. If I’m wrong and they do actually study him that way, they’re wildly off the mark.
We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard of journalism. You can get clicks without spreading lies. pic.twitter.com/NXY0fDGSmE— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) January 12, 2017
Our man Sam Sharpe does terrific work to cover Castilla, and he wrote a more objective take on him in December. To summarize, Odegaard is just fine. He’s 18 (!), is a huge part of Castilla, has looked very sharp when called up to the first team, and is very much on course to meet his developmental goals. His departure leaves a huge hole in Castilla. Sam and I will be watching Odegaard regularly with Heerenveen (along with continually keeping tabs on Marcos, Diego, Jesus, Borja, and Castilla), and will provide you with podcasts and regular updates on those wonderful kids coming through.