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Just because it’s shiny and new doesn’t mean Real Madrid need to own it

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On transfer rumours, BBC’s work rate, the Champions League draw, and more

Illustration: Finn

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.


There is always a recurring set of questions that we receive in every single mailbag and podcast, or just simply get blasted with on Twitter. You ready? Here it goes. *Holds breath: James or Isco? James and Isco? Kovacic? Casemiro? Casemiro or Kroos? Casemiro and Kroos? Marcos Llorente? Marcos Llorente and Casemiro? Marcos Llorente or Casemiro? BBC? 4-3-3? 4-4-2? 4-4-1-1? Benzema or Morata? Why does Zidane insist on crossing? Ricardo Rodriguez?

Hold on, I need to take a quick break. My head is spinning.

Aguero? Lewandowski? Dybala? Aubamayeng? Kane? Mbappe?

The last one is my favourite, and the most amusing. Not because Mbappe might not be the most appealing potential striker on that list — his upside and age could just make him the trump card over anyone already established — but because the reaction to his sudden (and insane) surge of form just encapsulates how reactionary fans are. I always imagine in my mind what this club would look like if it were completely public and was run by fans alone. I imagine it would be similar to that time when Marty McFly ventures into a parallel universe only to discover Biff is president, everything is legal, and the world is on fire.

I think if you go further into this universe, you’ll discover that Florentino Perez is tied up in a closet with his mouth taped shut, forced to watch a live feed of Lorenzo Sanz and Ramon Calderon lighting up cubans and throwing darts at every single galactico Perez has ever signed. Just down the hall from Perez’s cell is Gareth Bale -- he is mopping the bathrooms. Two weeks prior Bale was sold and given a job as a janitor because of a selfish play where he decided to shoot a ball into the stands on a counter-attack from 45 yards out; and it’s rumoured that by the end of the night, the fans will purchase a new janitor to replace him — a dude rumoured to be so good, that he once mopped the stands at the Etihad before the players come out of for their post-game pressers.

But it’s fine. In this universe, the fans have already decided that Bale is the best third-string janitor on earth — a luxury no other club has. Meanwhile, new signing Mbappe, at the age of 19 — damaged goods at this point — has been whistled off the pitch, and everyone in the comments section is asking why the hell did Real Madrid sell Odegaard? “Bring back Raul,” one says. Another tweets Kiyan a question for the podcast: “Why not let Drenthe and Jese write the new Real Madrid hymno? This one is outdated”. Kiyan is dead at this point. Gabe has scheduled the podcast to loop for eternity with these answers: “Benzema, 4-3-3, Bale,”. Sam Sharpe can no longer cover Castilla because Real Madrid TV no longer exists, and fans have turned Valdebebas into a grounds for FIFA tournaments, where the winner of the day gets to decide the next ten purchases.

The only winner in all this is Casemiro. He has committed a tackle. Fans have built a statue, and the Bernabeu has been renamed to Estadio Santiago CaseGOAT. The plaque for the statue reads: ‘Casemiro > Kante > Redondo’.

These are sports fans in a nutshell — always wanting more, something different. They want the flavour of the month. One day Aguero ‘has the killer instinct that Benzema doesn’t’, and weeks later Aguero is ‘washed up’; while Benzema is back in form and people are raving about the Frenchman’s importance. Harry Kane’s name comes and goes as sporadically as Tottenham’s form. No one talked about Mbappe a month ago (this is 90% true; his name actually came up 5 years ago, when, as a kid, Real Madrid had their eyes on him, and people who watch Monaco regularly knew his upside), but his sudden demolition over City — along with 7 goals in his last 5 games has now turned everyone’s heads.

Look, I love me some Mbappe. If ever Hanson did a return tour, they could dedicate an entire album to him — that would be tasty, and easily the best thing they’ve ever put out. This kid is the real deal. I mentioned it last week, whatever the outcome of that City tie, I have been converted into an Mbappe disciple. I have already trusted him with my unborn child given that A) he’s the youngest player in the past 30 years to score 13 Ligue 1 goals, B) has the best conversion rate among qualified players (10+ goals) in Europe’s 5 major leagues, C) was just applauded in an away game at Caen; and D) is dope.

But none of that means I’m rushing to buy him. There are a lot of great players on earth — a crazy amount of great prospects too. Mbappe is one of them. Here’s a reminder of who else is really good (or really promising): Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata, Borja Mayoral, Mariano, and Sergio Diaz. Sure, Kylian Mbappe isn’t limited to a central forward position — you could shoehorn him anywhere into an attacking trio. As a reminder, here is a list of really great or promising players the club owns at that position across the board too: Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Asensio, Isco, and Odegaard. My point is this: You don’t need to — nor can you — sign every great player who exists. At some point you have to realize your identity and gut your depth chart into something sustainable and rhythmic. The idea of building with young players with incredible upside — Bale, James, Asensio -- is still as exciting as any, and there is really no need to embed another player of equal value just for the sake of stockpiling assets while frustrating a whole infinite depth chart.

One way or another, Mbappe may arrive, but he may also not. If he does eventually don the white colours, he may be a hit — but let’s at least evaluate these major decisions after a full season, when the sample size is real to make sound decisions when it comes to shuffling the roster.


Five Observations

BBC’s work rate without the ball

Ronaldo in 2017 has been really, really good. Forget that he’s actually looking like his vintage self offensively (the stats aren’t quite there, but the eye test has been incredible), but I absolutely love how hard he’s working without the ball. I would apply this to Bale and Benzema too — both diligent. The myth that BBC doesn’t work hard still exists, but it can easily be debunked. Can we please separate ‘tactical schemes where the front three are often asked to hedge back and eliminate passing lanes instead of hounding opponents and pressing high’ from ‘lazy’? One guy on Twitter was upset at my idea that Ronaldo worked hard against Bilbao. The counter argument was staggering — “Why didn’t Ronaldo cover for Marcelo when he was getting skinned alive by Iñaki Williams?

Wait, what? You really want your forward — one of the best players of all time, hands down the best player on the entire pitch, and statistically efficient elite unicorn to double-up on the wings to be the ‘Iñaki stopper’? That’s the role of the central midfielder. Casemiro, Kroos, Kovacic, Isco — these players in particular have been excellent at covering bombing runs from Marcelo and Carvajal over the past two years. The front-three have a different role.

The BBC’s combined heat map shows them playing deep in San Mames against a Bilbao team that dominated in the final third. Benzema did the most pressing, while Bale and Ronaldo were really good at snipping passing lanes and immediately manifesting themselves as an outlet for the midfield when ball was retained. Otherwise, getting out of a very difficult Valverde press would’ve been even more laborious.

Real Madrid’s deep line had BBC doing a lot of work without the ball in the middle of the park. You can argue this is not the best use, tactically, of this crop of players — but it has nothing to do with effort levels. These are all schematic decisions.

Again, outlets, and constant turbine-like movement without the ball, leading to some stats we don’t see often: The BBC combined for 91 passes received, 6 tackles, and 6 clearances.

This casual goat pass from Luka Modric that Ronaldo couldn’t reach...

Ouf.

The pure heat of the Bayern draw

Bayern v Real X

Quick thoughts on the quarter-final draw between two behemoths of European football: This is either going to be really fun, or really, really horrifying. I swear there is no in-between when it comes to playing Bayern. You are either going to be over the moon after these two ties, or will be gutted of your heart and all major organs in a horrific way — and one day the ‘Saw’ franchise will dedicate a scene after you, and it will be disgusting.

This should be a neutral’s dream. Every single person not supporting either of these teams should thank the draw gods. Seriously — this tie never disappoints. I grew up watching 12 (!) Champions League knockout ties between these two titans, and it’s always insane. I almost dedicated one entire bullet point to this in today’s column, but decided I’ll turn it into an entirely separate article sometime during this international break. It will be something like ‘the top-10 moments from Madrid / Bayern clashes’. Spoilers: the corpse of Nicolas Anelka rising from beneath the earth in 2000, and Zidane karate-kicking the ball into the back of the net in 2004 before Guti and Raul had a royal rumble with Lizarazu and Kuffour.

This is going to be tasty, hot, sweaty, and heart-wrenching.

The case for bringing Monchi

Monchi won’t stay at Sevilla beyond this season, and there is no harm in bringing him in to have an extra level of competency in the board room. I fully understand that Monchi’s bread-and-butter is finding under-the-radar talent for cheap, which is the antithesis of how Real Madrid run things, but here’s the case for bringing him:

Miscellaneous plugs

Sometimes, I actually have to double-down and write something professional, as was the case this weekend, when I wrote about N’golo Kante’s (really heart-warming) childhood and career path for FourFourTwo.


Here’s something I’m working on. It will be published on Managing Madrid, as well as SBN, and an opposing team’s blog. The idea is to have a different co-host every week — journalists from other SBN soccer blogs, Marca, AS, general Spanish football journalists, etc. Here’s what I’m looking for from you: suggestions, as well as name ideas for the show.

If you haven’t yet, you should listen to our latest MM podcast, where Sam and I broadened the scope to talk about Castilla too. Something I wanted to mention here in particular is how impressed I’ve been with Luismi Quezada, who’s really started to emerge out of his shell with Castilla. It’s too soon, but if he continues to develop, he could be a legitimate option as a long-term back-up left back.


Finn just designed some really dope Managing Madrid t-shirts that will be on sale this week — I’ll post them on the site in a few days. This is really exciting, because A) The shirts are really, really, really good; and B) The sales will be distributed among the writers on Managing Madrid — many of whom volunteer their time to create content. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, and we’re lucky to have Finn on board to create some shirts for us that aren’t generic ‘Managing Madrid’ tees.

Finn is the GOAT.