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Jesus Vallejo Is Fine, Martin Odegaard Has Hit a New Gear, and Other Observations From This Past Week

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This week’s column: On Vallejo’s exaggerated mistakes, Odegaard’s dominance, and more

Real Madrid v Malaga - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/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.


It’s time for our weekly note-splash — stemming from a couple mediocre (if that) performances against Malaga and Fuenlabrada; as well as Heerenveen’s match against Zwolle, among other things:

Jesus Vallejo, the details

We are already getting the Vallejo we saw at Frankfurt. His integration into Real Madrid’s defensive line, though sporadic, has been seamless — he consistently mops up schematic messes the same way Varane and Casemiro do, distributes the ball comfortably and vertically, and feasts on attackers in one-on-one standoffs. He doesn’t take any defensive assignment lightly:

That was poor old Chory Castro trying to find his legs; but we don’t need an isolated example to prove Vallejo’s quickness and defensive IQ. Vallejo is a pragmatic hunter without the ball, and he’s rarely reckless about it. He’ll plough through you and get the ball, or in more delicate situations that obligate extra caution, like this instance in the box against Malaga, he comes good:

Amid a season ‘boasting’ a confused scheme that lacks balance defensively in transition, Vallejo fits in nicely as a last ditch stopgap to shield Real Madrid’s chaotic and open midfield — not that it should even come to that (are you reading, Zinedine?). Real Madrid should be able to prevent having to rely on the center-backs hedging forward to stop counter-attacks just by opting not to flood the box to meet misplaced crosses. Alas, in a time where all it takes to split Real Madrid on the counter is one pass, it’s nice having Vallejo around.

His hype was disrupted against Malaga, where he was seen as the culprit by many for Real Madrid conceding at least one of their goals — if not both. A lot of it was unfair when you zoom out and track the field. Sometimes mistakes are glaringly obvious (a Kroos giveaway, a soft Varane clearance); others need to be looked at holistically, with all the dominoes being tracked on rewind.

Vallejo does a lot of good things on the field. He’s mature, commanding, vocal, comfortable on the ball, strong without it, and has good defensive IQ. His attributes make him a good partner to Varane or Ramos; but not so much with Nacho who has similar defensive frailties on set-pieces. Jesus’s weakness remains getting to the ball before his marker does on a cross. He did have an instance like this in the second half against Malaga:

This is a different issue to Real Madrid’s first goal conceded, where the situation left him vulnerable. Yes — he could’ve sprinted to close down Rolan after Kroos mysteriously gives the ball away, but look where he is when it happens, and track his movement and body language all the way through:

After Kroos gives the ball away, the German should be running to close down the near-post run of Penaranda. He opts to take the passing lane instead — leaving Vallejo to guess which player the cross gets to. Once it’s clear the ball is going to Rolan, Vallejo realizes two things: 1) He’s not going to beat Rolan to the header, so he decides to drop back to save the potential header off after it’s struck; and 2) He sees Casemiro (who’s also not sprinting into the correct position by the way, much like Kroos and Vallejo) coming back to help, assuming Case could help disrupt Rolan’s header while Vallejo saves the goal. Casemiro didn’t get there in time, and Rolan took a touch, forcing Vallejo to close down the shot. Rolan’s extra touch is actually a nice piece of wizardry that wasn’t talked about enough — had he headed it first time, Vallejo can block it at the post.

Those are the scrutinized details, if you will.

The second goal had a different kind of freakiness to it. Defensively, everything was subtly falling apart before Casilla fails to stop a preventable goal. Casemiro is trying to do everything here — tracking the ball constantly to double-up on the ball-carrier. When Castro shows as an outlet, Kroos and Isco are higher up the pitch, leaving right-winger Lucas Vazquez to come to the other side of the field to help close the last remaining passing-lane which Casemiro can’t get to; only Vazquez chooses the higher (and less dangerous outlet), leaving Castro open. This, um, isn’t on Vallejo:

Odegaard still unplayable

Leaps leaps leaps. Odegaard is flying right now. He’s developed as a ball-carrier in transition, has learned the virtue of patience when unlocking defenses, and continues to evolve as a smooth playmaker in tight spaces.

Against Zwolle on the weekend, he swooned us with more of the same vision he’s been swooning us with regularly this season:

He’s a silky dribbler, and thrives when defenders think they’ve thwarted him in a tight space. Odegaard completes 2.8 dribbles per game — only five players average more in the Eredivisie.

It’s fun. He has a nice aesthetic feel to his game. Feints and all — he can create space with a touch and a ruse from his shoulder:

The shot was soft, but the shrewd maneuver with minimal effort is what’s so great. All it took was one decisive action to create space — those are things that are generally hard to teach. It’s an intangible instinct and feel — a dose of creativity. As we’ve stated on this column before, his vision, talent, and execution should hand him more assists — but his teammates just can’t finish. Peak Odegaard in La Liga in a few years time has a legitimate case of leading the league in assists. These should be goals:

He has one or two of these moments every game, where his teammates just don’t care about padding poor Martin’s assist numbers.

Still a problem: Elite players giving the ball away deep

Remember every week when we raise this issue, and discuss how eventually a behemoth will come along and lay it on us in Punisher mode? We talk about it every week. These miscues are, um, still happening.

Jumbled notes from Castilla / Copa

  • Just days prior to Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey draw, Real Madrid Castilla held Fuenlabrada to a 0-0 results. One of the bright spots this season, particularly during this ‘lukewarm’ streak that they’re putting together, has been their defense. Manu Hernando has looked great. Ditto Javi Sanchez. Seoane has been really good too in front of them, and Luismi Quezada has shifted up to the left wing while making for a nice left-flank duo with Regulion.
  • This streak has come at the expense of Dani Gomez and Campuzano both sitting on the bench while Cristo plays as the striker. Cristo’s decision-making has been por. He panics when faced with multiple options, and doesn’t look that comfortable. I think Solari could make this work with Gomez starting instead.
  • I have no idea what the thought-process was behind the Castilla call-up decisions for the Copa game. Gabe and I talked about this on Wednesday night’s podcast: Tejero is not even Castilla’s best wing-back right now, and he’s certainly not a center-back. Oscar hasn’t had a great season, and he’s certainly not a left winger. Something was lost in translation here. (For further breakdown of that game, make sure to check out that podcast where we dissected all the problems.)
  • Under Cristobal Parralo; Fede Valverde has played in a role that makes more sense for him. Fede was, for stretches of this season in his limited time on the pitch, an isolated ghost who stationed himself close to the left flank. This version of Fede is more unchained -- he roams in different pockets on the pitch, is sometimes the deepest midfielder, and does a lot of dirty work. I’m interested to see how he develops. I’d like to see him get a bit more involved in the attack, as we know he’s a good box-to-box presence. Also, how have they not figured a way to play Lucas Perez and Andone together yet? Waste.
  • Sam Sharpe is going to go into a coma soon: