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Three observations, including Zidane’s disorganized chaos

On formation shuffling, Jese’s failed stint at PSG, and Vallejo’s busy match against Schalke

Celta Vigo v Real Madrid - Copa Del Rey Quarter-final: Second Leg Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

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.

Three observations

The disorganized chaos of Zidane’s blueprint

The formation shuffling from Zidane has grown absurd. Gone are the days of the 4-3-3, and in are the ways of tactical jumbling and frantic anarchy. It’s one thing to keep opposing coaches 2nd guessing — it’s another to to keep your team on a volatile tight rope which is gutted of rhythm and familiarity.

I for one, am all for innovation and flexibility. The 4-4-1-1 at the Calderon was a masterstroke that packed the flanks and retaliated with blitzing slingshot runs from Bale and Isco to take advantage of space that Atletico left behind while Simeone’s men laboured to pick the lock of Zidane’s defensive scheme. The 3-5-2 in Sevilla was nice too -- reliable, safe, composed, even pragmatic. But beyond that, it is hard to get behind Zidane’s infatuation with inventing new ways to torture the team on a game-to-game basis.

Zidane’s hands were somewhat tied, to be sure, going into the 2nd leg against Celta — but they were not cuffed, chained, and hung over a bed of combusting material. So much attention has been zeroed in on Danilo that everything else that went wrong has taken a backseat. Let us count the ways: The 3-5-2 is meant to be sound defensively, it is not meant to be used as a gung-ho blindsiding assault. Moreover, it is not meant to have two of its three central defenders race high up the pitch while your central midfielders are stretched alive Braveheart style — desperately holding on for dear life.

Keep counting: One of the three central defenders has never played as a central defender in a Real Madrid shirt, and a player who could have done so instead — Raphael Varane — was rested with the Cup on the line.

The dominoes from this particular ideology fell quickly and mercilessly. Celta Vigo pressed in a medium-high block, and with Casemiro acting as one of the facilitators from the backline, Real Madrid just couldn’t break through. That is unfortunate, because Eduardo Berizzo’s men left a gap in-behind their initial press, and Real Madrid’s passing and movement off the ball just wasn’t good enough to take advantage of it.

The above play may seem like a routine miss-pass, but the entire sequence is actually a mess. The lack of movement is staggering. You do not abandon a player like Casemiro to invent space on his own. Kovacic is the only player in a reasonable position to accept a pass, and rather than playing it safe, the Brazilian opts for the home-run prayer to Asensio — it all goes terribly wrong.

Real Madrid needed more movement like the one below to break Celta’s initial press. Notice how Toni Kroos coaxes Guidetti to follow him, while Isco drifts into the Swede’s blindspot.

But those sequences were a rarity, and again, it’s a shame, because this is the kind of space that Celta were seducing Madrid into:

The regression of Jese Rodriguez

Well, this is not directly related, but given many of you have some connection to Jese Rodriguez on an emotional level, it’s relevant enough. Things are spiralling for him, and they’re spiralling fast. His departure over the summer from the Bernabeu was met with mixed feelings. Some wanted him to stay, others saw no place for him — I was of the later.

Just imagine what it would be like having Jese in the team’s insane top-heavy depth chart now. There was always a pocket of the fanbase screaming for Jese to stay — but they were typically the same fans who wanted to sign more players too. God forbid the board opts not only to stay pat on signings, but to also gut some of the roster. But it needed to be done (as I wrote when it happened), and I was surprised even more fat wasn’t shed from the inventory in that position before the window closed.

It turns out Jese has had the same familiar issues in Paris that he had in Madrid. Unai Emery has several attacking players ahead of the Spaniard to chose from, and it doesn’t help that Jese’s been largely unimpressive when on the field. He’s started two matches while appearing in 14, logging just 280 minutes — 17 of those in the Champions League spread across four matches off the bench. Emery can just get more bang for his buck distributing his minutes to Lucas Moura, Di Maria, Cavani, Ben Arfa (all of whom produce way more across the board per 90 metrics), and now Draxler and Guedes.

PSG will move on from Jese eventually, and the player will welcome it — it’s been a disaster for him. So much so that he may not last the end of the winter window, with Karanka showing interest in him at Middlesborough, and Las Palmas — his hometown — being an enticing destination too.

Per Ligue 1 journalist Mohammed Ali in my correspondence with him on Friday:

Jese at PSG is a strange one, I don't exactly know what PSG thought they were getting for €30m. He didn't exactly set Madrid alight after a long term injury, but the simple reason is that he hasn't clicked at all in Emery's squad. I wouldn't attribute this to attitude but largely on poor performance coupled with Emery's decision to place faith in other players

When he has been called up, Jesé has never looked potent or dangerous to suggest he could be a big hit in Paris or he could make it at this level. This can be seen in the fact that the likes of Las Palmas & Middlesbrough are the sort of teams interested.

I think he could be a hit with Middlesbrough ultimately. He strikes me as the sort of player who was destined for the top but lost their way a little. To regain themselves they need 'love' and confidence from a manager. He could well be a big fish at Boro, but I'm not sure if the adaptation will come quickly for him. It is perhaps early to be switching clubs in January, he would settle a lot better in the summer.

But with PSG opting to add to an already stacked attacking midfield lineup with the addition of Draxler & Guedes, his days in Paris are numbered.

Jesus Vallejo, busy against Schalke

Contrary to Diego Llorente, who’s been in the dog house for all of 2017 at Malaga, Vallejo just continues to produce gifts for Frankfurt in his usual role — the left defender of a three-man backline in a proper 3-5-2. I continue to enjoy Vallejo’s traditional and fundamental feel to the game. He’s not quite flashy, but he’s intelligent and plays the game the right way by doing the little things — not being a liability with the ball at his feet, knowing when to hedge away from his marker to double-up on the wings and when not to, and is very efficient in his clearances. He’s also comfortable dribbling up the pitch when it’s required — unfazed when opposing presses try to snuff out his comfort zone.

Annoyingly, getting a hold of full Bundesliga matches in order to eviscerate it of gifs is not easy; but know this — Vallejo does good things. Against Schalke, there were moments where he pressed high to squeeze opponents before sprinting back into position like he never left. He can close you down so quickly, and offensively, his touch and distribution is on point, usually.

And that’s where we need to temper our expectations. There is a crazy amount of fans in my mentions screaming for Vallejo to come back next season while being content with sacrificing Pepe — and I just don’t see this as a clear-cut good strategy. Vallejo still has lots of room to improve — that we’re excited about his potential doesn’t mean we should get ahead of ourselves. Having the experienced Pepe around for just another season or two can’t hurt, and with Nacho playing as well as he has been at the back, Real Madrid have already bought themselves some time for the inevitable Vallejo return. There is really no rush to tinker with his situation at Frankfurt right now, which is ideal from a developmental standpoint.

Vallejo’s distribution out of the back on Friday night wasn’t as precise as it normally is. He misplaced 13 passes, and this is generally not like him, as Frankfurt normally does so well without the ball, enabling Jesus to pick out teammates with relative ease. Defensively, his biggest weakness remains on crosses — he just looks unnerved when trying to cope with a swinging ball. Whether it’s a high cross, or a low drive across the area, Vallejo consistently lets his marker beat him to the ball for a chance (and on more than one occasion this season, a goal) conceded.

Vallejo completed 20/33 passes against Schalke. As you can see, he’s not afraid of the vertical dagger.

Enjoy the Jesus Vallejo ride and feel free to hop on board the hype train; but keep your expectations in check — as is always the case with prospects like him.

A couple tidbits...

  1. I know many of you were expecting Sam Sharpe and I to record a Castilla podcast last week, but due to a ton of match coverage revolving around Celta, the scheduling just couldn’t line-up. We’re aiming for a Tuesday recording now.
  2. Miran and I recorded a podcast here. We scrutinized my latest piece for FourFourTwo: ’12 bold predictions for 2017' — going down the list and discussing the likelihood of each.

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