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Mailbag: Vallejo, Odegaard, summer signings, bad weather, and more

Two-week break means written mailbag for y’all

Real Madrid CF v Real Sociedad de Futbol - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

A large, unintended, two-week break in-between matches means a proper written mailbag was due. Thanks for all your questions, fam. Let’s get it.

* Licks-lips, salivates.

How nice of you to bring up Vallejo and Odegaard, Om. These are two of my favs.

Both these dudes played around the same time on Sunday, which made it nearly impossible for coverage. I’ve complained about this to Sam Sharpe perpetually in 2017 — Odegaard’s move to Heerenveen is going to make life as a Real Madrid journalist a complete juggling act. Here’s my current Friday morning routine:

  1. Wakes up (this is imperative)
  2. Checks footy schedule for weekend.
  3. Prioritizes, in this order: Real Madrid, Alaves, Frankfurt, Heerenveen, Castilla, Malaga (Diego Llorente is last in terms of peaking my interest at this point, given that Miguel freaking Torres is ahead of him the CB pecking order)
  4. Starts sweating profusely because half of these games overlap. At this point, everything else (there are an infinite amount of good-to-great matches across Europe to catch) becomes a bonus. To boot, I’ve started venturing outside of Real Madrid circles, and have just been approved for my first in-print feature for FourFourTwo. This is nuts for many reasons but mostly -- 1) because it’s dope; and 2) it is completely unrelated to Real Madrid or any of the aforementioned teams. My head is spinning.
  5. Cancels all weekend plans, buys wife flowers to compensate (I really am a sleazy monster), takes out the notebook, and starts recording every single point of interest (particularly the under-the-radar talking points) that transpires in Real Madrid land.

This Sunday in particular was tough; because both Vallejo and Odegaard’s matches overlapped — so I opted to tune into Frankfurt’s match, leaving Heerenveen’s extended highlights for this morning.

So let’s talk about Vallejo first. I’ve been itching to write something about him, but given there were no observations this week due to a lack of Real Madrid games, I’ll spill the beans here:

Frankfurt (third place in the Bundesliga, just 17 goals conceded), went up against Darmstadt who are dead last in the league table — dire going forward (a league-worst 12 goals scored) and rocking the second-worst defensive record in the Bundesliga.

Vallejo had very little to do defensively, yet, still looked very impressive for a variety of reasons. He passed all of his defensive assignments, was the best distributor on the entire pitch (completing a whopping 103 of his 111 pass attempts), and always looked to create from the back. He moves constantly, communicates ceaselessly, and gives instructions to his teammates like he’s the spiritual kindred brother of General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross.

His movements are always methodical. Vallejo maneuvers his way around the pitch to make life easier for his teammates. And though never ostentatious, he knows where the ball needs to go and gets it there quickly. He sees the play before the ball gets to him, and so as to waste no time, the ball zips to its destination so fast it forces defenders to be alert continuously. Every second counts in the brain of Jesus Vallejo.

As comfortable as Vallejo is distributing the ball from the backline, he finds serenity in dribbling up the pitch. Truth be told, Darmstadt did not press him at all on Sunday, but Vallejo generally can dribble his way out of precarious situations when space around him starts dissipating from an opposing press. Often he’ll look to take the ball up field in case he catches a defensive line napping, and if nothing is on, he’ll pull the ball back and recycle possession. No harm done.

Other times, the gamble pays-off:

That chance led to a corner, and that corner led to a penalty when, surprise, Vallejo was fouled inside the box.

Again, not much to note defensively, other than that he dealt with the little he had well, including this play in the first half when the attacker couldn’t bait the Spanish defender into anything:

Gronk Goat’s question about Vallejo’s potential playing time next season is one I think I’ve been clear on for sometime now: I’m of the belief Vallejo should stay in Frankfurt for one more year. That situation is far too good for him, and Nacho playing as well as he is buys Real Madrid time to let Vallejo develop even further in Germany. That said, I’m almost certain the club does not agree with me, particularly with Pepe having one foot out the door. I’m just not sure having Vallejo in an Asensio-type role next season is good for him.

Ouf, there goes all of my Vallejo notes from Sunday.

RE: Odegaard, he is getting some schtick from the Norwegian press for his play, which is harsh. As Sam and I discussed on the last Castilla podcast, a lot of what was written about him over at BeIn and AS was false; and I’m worried he’ll get hammered for no reason wherever he goes. The kid just can’t win.

Here’s what I’ll quickly share about Odegaard: He looked really composed against Utrecht on Sunday. It’s fun to see him in a role that doesn’t isolate him on the right wing — which Solari was obsessed with. With Heerenveen, he hovers deeper to provide outlets and create plays, and always look to slice his opponents vertically rather than making the obvious, or ‘status-quo’, pass. He’ll be fine. It would just be nice if the press would start being more objective in their takes and stop filling the minds of fans with false clutter. I’m still seeing some fans buy into the narrative that all of Odegaard’s money has given him attitude issues — umm, none of that is true.

Omar, I wouldn’t deviate from the 4-3-3 which has served Zidane so well over the past year. I’m of the belief that Real Madrid is good enough to impose its will on any game rather than guile its scheme around its opponent. But this question is also deep, and the answer is less straightforward than it looks. As much as I admire Zidane for improving on his tactical versatility — I think I could put together a nice portfolio of articles I’ve written specifically about Zidane’s underrated tactical sense — but there are certain things I can’t defend him on, particular his fascination with shuffling schemes like a deck of cards.

From a previous column (full column here) I wrote:

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.

That said, if Zidane wants to deviate from the 4-3-3 which did so well to propel Real Madrid’s unbeaten run, I would consider slinging out a 3-5-2 like he did in Sevilla (not the one he rolled in Vigo where Casemiro was left to himself at the back and the team was trying to tread water in the face of disorganized chaos). Napoli are so good going forward, particularly on the flanks, that letting them have the ball and inviting them to attack a defensive line filled with stopgaps across the board could work. The team would suffer offensively, to be sure, but would still have enough chances to come away with an away goal or two while keeping a clean sheet.

So as to not dodge the part of the question about players: Kovacic over Casemiro, and Nacho over Danilo. I’ll leave it there, as I’ve answered the ‘x player vs x player’ question more times than I can actually comprehend.

Here’s a really radical idea: Don’t sign anyone. Benzema is still in his prime (Aguero is pushing post-peak, Aubameyeng I love, but he’s the only dude I’d consider taking a gamble on if Benzema leaves, and Dybala has no reason to leave Juve), Morata is just about the best back-up striker you can ask for, James Rodriguez is literally one of the most exciting players in the world, and Asensio can barely get a lick already. Chill. Build. Let the continuity unravel.

Mateo, Mateo, Mateo. Do me a solid Matthew and read this column I wrote on Kovacic.

I’m not rationalizing it, but I’ll just let you know how it actually is being rationalized:

  • It costs 4 million to implement.
  • There is so much tension between the league’s president, Javier Tebas, and the Spanish Football Federation president, Angel Maria Villar, that they won’t even consider sitting down with each other to discuss it.

Yeah. It’s backwards.

Shit Ajlal, you really know the way to a man’s heart. These are always fun. I wish more questions like this (or about the team’s history, things we don’t normally talk about) came up more. A bit less mundane than the weekly player debates.

GK: De Gea, Casilla, Luca Zidane

DF: Carvajal, Vallejo, Jorge Mere, Varane, Diego Llorente, Alaba, Gaya, Achraf

MF: Marcos Llorente, James, Kovacic, Febas, Asensio, Ruben Neves, Isco

FW: Mayoral, Odegaard, Lucas Vazquez, Sergio Diaz, Alvaro Morata

*whispers - I will be wrong about this.

First of all, thank you Anton for being a Patron for our podcasts. Seriously, thanks from the bottom of my (and Gabe’s, and Eric’s) heart(s). Reminder: if you’re interested in supporting our podcasts, you can check out our Patreon page.

The women’s team is long overdue, no question. There is a matter of logistics involved — it is surprisingly difficult to launch a women’s team and build its infrastructure from scratch — which will probably lead Florentino to acquire an already established women’s team rather than build a new one. Either way, the difficulty in logistics isn’t a good excuse, and I hope the club figures this out soon.

This is a loaded question, and I’ve already written 1800+ words, so I’m going to save this for next week’s column — I promise.

This is kind of fun. What Conte is doing at Chelsea is sending shockwaves throughout Europe. He’s taken a group of journeymen and got them to buy into a cohesive scheme that’s running away with the Premier League title. In a theoretical situation where Conte takes over this team, I think he has some great tools to work with. Lucas Vazquez could slot into the Moses role nicely (or Carvajal, take your pick), and ditto Marcelo / Gareth Bale on the opposite flank where Marcos Alonso is having a nice season.

Llorente’s position really isn’t deep, homeboy. He’s just added depth. He plays much deeper than most central midfielders in this team — or should, in theory anyway.


  1. The weather in Vigo was a gong show, and damaged some of Balaidos, so the mayor of the city announced the game will be cancelled 30 hours in advance.
  2. This didn’t suit Real Madrid for obvious reasons.
  3. Real Madrid then released a statement to show, in writing, all the things they did to push for the game to happen, proposing alternative ideas like hosting the game elsewhere or closing off the damaged section of the stadium.

If I take off my Real Madrid shades, I can understand why Celta didn’t try very hard to make this game happen. Aside from footballing reasons, this would also hit them financially, and I think often we lack empathy towards our rivals. The world doesn’t revolve around Real Madrid, and it shouldn’t. I’m not going to take sides either way, but the entire ordeal seemed childish. If I’m Real Madrid, I want this game to happen at all costs, but if I’m Celta, I do not want to play this at an alternative venue.

OK, last one:

Yes, I do — but not in a rational sense. I believe it because I have to — because I already committed to it. From my 2017 predictions piece for FourFourTwo:

Furthermore, Miran and I actually discussed this prediction at length (at the 16:40 mark) on my latest podcast.

Ok, I’m out. I appreciate you guys reading this, and just in case you’ve read till the end — our podcasts will resume this weekend after the Osasuna match. God speed.

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