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Managing Madrid Mailbag: Historical XIs, Asensio’s form, favourite players, and more

International Break means Kiyan dives deep into your mail..

Raul of Real Madrid holds off Andy Cole of Manchester United

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.

It’s the international break, and that can only mean one thing: a beautiful array of international matches, important fixtures where Real Madrid players get to play more minutes, a wonderful break from Real Madrid games, and most importantly — just enough time for me to squeeze in a mailbag.

Mailbags are probably my favourite thing to do, so, thank you for giving me enough questions to always thoroughly enjoy it. Today, we discuss: Asensio’s form, historical XI mash-ups, and, a bunch of other things.

Before we get into it, you should know that we do have a Patreon page where you can support our podcast, get access to bonus content, and even get further rewards — like actually joining us on an episode, getting guaranteed responses to your questions, and even asking me to slave away on an article of your choice. Not bad. Join the army and I’ll be your puppet, essentially.

OK, let’s do it.

First, from our Patrons:

That’s like asking me if I had dozens of sons, how would I rank them? That’s almost... entirely very possible! So, here-goes:

  1. Luka Sobhani - obvious choice.
  2. Raul Gonzalez Blanco — my ‘first favourite’, and will always be my favourite footballer to ever play the game. No one will ever top him, for me. Your first will always have a special place in your heart.
  3. Luka Modric — this guy wasn’t actually on my list two years ago, but he’s won me over completely. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anyone’s aesthetic game as I’ve enjoyed his. Zidane and Redondo are the only two others that come close. Speaking of which:
  4. Zinedine Zidane and Fernando Redondo.
  5. I’m not entire sure who my fifth football king is yet, but players I really love for various reasons: OG Ronaldo, Marcos Llorente (obvs), Luis Figo, Steve McManaman, and Gareth Bale.

Important question. One thing I’ll note right off the bat, as someone who has attended various pressers with Zidane, is that: If you’re among the minority who actually has a good question, you’re going to still have a difficult time getting your question in.

If I go into a presser, and I want to ask Zidane about, let’s say, a tactical scheme that might need to shift due to the opponent’s blueprint, or something more detailed and researched, the reality is this:

  • The room is packed full of journalists. There have been times where I’ve been next in line to ask a question, and I’ve been cut-off by the PR dude just before my turn because they run on a strict time-line.
  • The majority of journalists, and I mean, without exaggeration, over 95% of them, have no interest in talking about... Interesting things. They’re there to get quotes to fill in their story for MARCA / AS. For them, something like “we need to work hard to obtain three points” is good enough to fill their 500-word quota. This is something I had to get used to. My background was in the NBA, where we could walk to anyone in the locker-room and have a conversation with the players and coaches casually. Football is much more strict, and opportunities are not great to dig deeper. I’ve been able to break down some barriers for my upcoming book about Florentino, but it’s a long road.
  • Zidane is very political with his answers, obviously. I love that about him, and I don’t blame him for it. There are times where he’ll be more candid (like after the match against Espanyol), but those moments are rare.

Your question, Ivan, is something that I’ve contemplated a lot. I haven’t had this problem with Santiago Solari, because there’s not really anyone covering Castilla, and you can be candid with your questions (and he’s very emotional and fun to talk to, too). But I’m more conscious and aware of how it works with Zidane now, so I’m intrigued to start pushing some buttons moving forward to get you guys some juicier stuff.

This is going to be a crazy good team. You have one of the best goalkeepers of all time, a couple of all-time great center-backs, historically-elite midfield engines, and unicorns up front:

Also decent:

(No, I don’t want to hear your hot takes about these line-ups. There are a lot of honourable mentions, if not starters, that didn’t make the cut: Xabi, OG Ronaldo, Marcelo, Iniesta, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho — just to name a few. But this is my team, and my team will eat your team for breakfast.)

Fede Valverde and Martin Odegaard are doing really good. Both are impressing with Deportivo and Heerenveen respectively, though the former plays less. Deportivo are not terribly concerned about Fede’s minutes, but in the times they’ve used him, they’ve gotten absolute gold in return.

Ditto Odegaard, who’s featured regularly for his side (and I wrote about his progress in a column not too long ago here). I’ll make sure to dedicate some more detailed reports about these two, along with Febas, soon.

I’m with you, cautiously. We still haven’t seen things normalize yet, and there are caveats to this young season — plenty of question marks too.

1) Are Barcelona better than we thought? Paulinho has looked better than we anticipated. He’s a direct midfielder who hasn’t been shy on the pitch and gets into positions that pesters the opposition’s back-line. Denis Suarez has taken a leap this season. He’s a dude who’s carried a lot of shade since last year, and was a running joke (along with Deulofeu) this summer in Poland -- but he’s looked great up until now, and he and Messi look fine together. Deulofeu, though not a game-altering presence, is a good contributor given he’s not a focal point of the offense. Semedo is good. We haven’t even seen Dembele yet.

2) Is the eye-test as good as their results? Probably not. But it’s better than perceived too. Sure, Betis, Las Palmas, and Girona all missed really good chances against Barca — but it’s not clear that it would’ve impacted the result that much had they converted those chances. And I mean, this is Barcelona in a nutshell in the Messi era — they continually get results even when their overall squad is torn apart by media and fans. That was one frustrating component of last season: One of Real Madrid’s greatest teams ever was only a hair above one of Barcelona’s weakest sides in recent memory. That’s, um, reality, if we’re looking at the table in a vacuum.

3) Are their results sustainable? To break this down even further, will Luis Suarez continue to be this bad? How many games can Iniesta realistically play, and if he can’t, will Busquets get legitimate help from Rakitic / Paulinho / Gomes / Roberto in big games? Does Valverde lack trust in Semedo for some reason? On the flipside, is the form of Denis Suarez and Paulinho sustainable? How will they tread water against Real Madrid who steps up in big games, and overran them silly in the Super Copa?

To be fair, Barcelona did grind Juventus down to their bare bones already -- so it’s not all against weaker opposition. But I lean with you Jimmy. I’m interested to see how they bend under the stress of bigger tests.

I’ve been vocal about this, but in case you haven’t heard me say this already: This question is only relevant if we’re talking about a gun-to-your-head, do-or-die game — like say, the Champions League final.

Rotations, lineups, injuries, suspensions — these things are all intertwined, and the squad is good enough that the lineup generally doesn’t matter. But if you’re asking who should start if every single player is fit in a game that is so must-win that if we lose it, the earth will explode and our existence will be forgotten, then I’d ride with BIC. That’s Bale, Isco, Cristano; also known as Big Interstellar Cock. Because that’s what it looks like to opposing teams — like a giant dick penetrating you from all directions.

Just ask Atletico and Dortmund what happened when the BIC slapped them in the face.

I wouldn’t sign any strikers in January, Awanish.

I mean, yes.

I forgot Koke.

To me, it’s between Spain, France, Germany, and Brazil (wow so brave Kiyan picking the four best teams).

If you’re like most fans who’ve fallen in love with Marco Asensio, it’s natural to feel disappointed with his recent form. But here’s the thing: I’m not even sure his recent form is that bad; it’s just not been other-worldly good as it was to start the season. He’s been on a blitz in the past few months, starting at the tail end of last season, carrying over to the U-21 Euros and the Super Copa, then peaking against Valencia where he made us all delirious.

In the two-week span which began with Asensio’s counter-attacking, fire-slinging goal against Barcelona, and ended with him putting the team on his back against Valencia, we witnessed some incredible shit. He was unplayable. No one could touch him. Naturally, it’s hard to sustain that kind of form no matter how great you are. We’ll see that version of Asensio again — there’s almost no question. We just won’t see it every match, and, that’s OK.

Most fans have been taking exception with his decision-making in the final third, which, is completely fair, if not a bit exaggerated. I don’t believe in conspiracies that he doesn’t want to pass to Ronaldo and Bale. He’s had some great passes to them as well as several other players during this ‘slump’. You have to live-and-die with these mistakes if you’re Zidane. When you have players like Isco and Asensio, you give them freedom to make decisions, even if they’re the wrong ones. They’ll see things you won’t see from your couch at home, and sometimes they’ll hold on to the ball long enough to suck defenders in before cutting a hole through them. Sometimes they’ll be good passes, and sometimes you’ll pull your hair out. When you give them creative freedom, you have to let them crash the car a couple times before they put the car on cruise control and ride it into the sunset.

We have to take into consideration: 1) Kylian Mbappe is only 18; 2) He’s a generational talent; and 3) He’s flirted with Real Madrid his whole life.

It’s naive to think he’ll never come to Real Madrid. When you’re 18, you literally have your whole career in front of you. Mbappe hasn’t even started yet — he’s just been so good that we forget he’s still a baby. What does 200 million mean anyway? It might mean absolutely nothing five years from now. I don’t know — I’m not ready to close the door on this one yet.

I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this over the internet.


Thank you.


Gareth Bale is the only one currently. Though, historically, there have been 27. This question recurs once every six months or so, and I think we can simplify the answer: Culture, comfort, and money. British players have little reason to move overseas, unless it’s for a really lucrative deal (unlikely, at this point), or they’re getting bought by a big club. On the other hand, Premier League teams love buying Spanish players, and Spanish players love going there. And guess what? They’re not going there for the weather.

That’s like, a lot of tweets, but, here-goes:

He’s been one of the best buys by any La Liga team this season. After Betis lost Dani Ceballos, they were always going to have a problem replacing his incisiveness and creativity. Even with all their added depth, I couldn’t really pinpoint anyone who could help them feed Sergio Leon consistently.

Andres Guardado turned out to be that guy. You know what’s great about Betis, apart from the fact they’re finally showing us what we’d dreamed they’d turned into after their phenomenal summer? Guardado is actually getting help now. At first, if he was off the field, Betis just couldn’t create enough chances. But now Fabian has stepped up, and Joaquin is an ageless God. Sanabria has bought Sergio Leon rest, too. I’m all in on Betis -- my favourite big team from Seville.

How many words was that?

They’d survive the immediate future, and they look set up really well for the next three-to-five years too. Beyond that? I have no idea. I mean, they’ll be ‘fine’, but no one knows how this will pan out. In a theoretical situation where this finally does happen, of course they’d suffer. We don’t know who the stars are 5-10 years from now, but I imagine the National Team would get weakened just like the USSR’s did. There’ll be a hit, for sure.

Spain is lucky they have Marcos Llorente. But one day, this God will not be with us.


I get access to exclusive questions?

I schedule things, and ask people to write things, I guess.

International break means I'll be doing a mailbag. So, drop me your questions below, and I'll do my best to answer them. #AskMeAnything

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Just take your shot. Pull up for three, and sink that shit.

International break means I'll be doing a mailbag. So, drop me your questions below, and I'll do my best to answer them. #AskMeAnything

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 3, 2017

There is no easy way to answer this -- it’s a combination of a lot of things. I grew up lucky enough to be friends with coaches who coached professionally. I read a lot, watch a lot. I don’t watch like a regular dude. Someone else might kick their feet up and watch a game casually; whereas I’m pausing the game minute-by-minute, taking notes, and looking at every position on the pitch.

So, I’m a nerd. But, when it’s your career, you have to be prepared and ahead of the game. I don’t like reporting news or being a beat writer; I’m more into doing deep dives and debunking narratives. I guess that helps.

The writing part? Just practice.

something something fake it till you make it

International break means I'll be doing a mailbag. So, drop me your questions below, and I'll do my best to answer them. #AskMeAnything

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Can we pause for a second to dissect how bizarre this question is:

  1. Not even the same name
  2. Not even the same position

We might as well compare Marcos Llorente to Thomas Gravesen while we’re at it.

The answer to this question is as clear as the brightness of the sun on a cloudless day.

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