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 finals, four years, and so many critical questions pumping into the streams of yet another controversial regime in the club’s recent history. It is bewildering how much verbal abuse is spewed at Florentino Perez, Zinedine Zidane, and the plethora of great players — few of which have escaped the wrath of a fanbase that has engulfed into uncharted numbers and is snowballing its growth, alongside the expansion of the organization.
This club strikes the heart of people in every nook and cranny on earth, and even a small percentage of the fanbase will amount to millions. That on its own brings baggage. But in an era of constant shade, competence will trump noise. Zoom out. Three finals in four years — a late away goal from Morata halting it from hitting the 4/4 mark. That is incredible for a team that gets yelled at week in week out. Few teams appear in consecutive finals. Bayern Munich did it in 2013. Manchester United did it in 2008, and before that, you’d have to go all the way back to Valencia in 2001, when Gaizka Mendieta carried the mantle to Paris and Milan before surrendering.
Three-of-four appearances is an even bigger feat to score. Bayern Munich pulled it off in 2013, and the only other team to have accomplished that kind of European consistency in the past 18 years was Juventus, who lost two-of-three consecutive finals from 1995-1998 — the last of which came at the hands of Predrag Mijatovic. No matter how you spin it, what Real Madrid have achieved in these four years on a European level is rare.
"We are very happy, what we have achieved is not easy, we have eliminated a great rival," Isco said after seeing out the early storm against Atletico in the second leg. "Getting to the final this way tastes much better.
Let’s count the blitzing ways that Real Madrid carved their path to Cardiff. In the knockout stages, they outscored their opponents 16 - 7. Those numbers are paved over six games, and numb the mind even moreso when you consider they came against Napoli, Bayern Munich, and Atletico Madrid. For obvious reasons which we’ve dissected to death, bushwhacking those three teams in particular is, um, no matter how you reel it, impressive. Last season everyone scoffed at Real Madrid for drawing the easiest teams every round until the final — boo hoo. No one can take this year’s achievement from them.
Over the course of those six games and 16 goals, they also outshot their opponents 123 - 86. They rallied, then imposed their will. The eye test was closely associated with the stats.
In all but one of those games — the away win in Naples, in which Real Madrid still scored three away goals — Zidane’s men had more passes in the final-third than their opponents. The possession was pragmatic and decisive more often than not. Daps.
In more ways than one, the first galactico regime had a lower ceiling than this one. The plan after Zidane’s gravitational slingshot into the post-mortem of his prime was dubious. Figo was done. OG Nike Ronaldo was a stud, but was pushing 30. Beckham was a really nice, underrated piece of a complicated jigsaw puzzle which was a mishmash of tactical chaos and frailty. Raul had seen his best days already. Ditto Roberto Carlos. By 2005 (and that’s generous), the model was outdated and unsustainable.
There is something more polished about the current reign. You could write a hefty article about the mistakes Florentino has made; but you could also write a book about his forward-looking vision and brunt, as well as his mastery at adapting and stepping away from shoehorning his signings into the tactical schemes of the managers. Things have been different under Florentino’s second tenure, particularly when Mourinho showed up with his duffle bag and clipboard. With Zidane, the respect and unified vision has hit an all-time high.
Though it was just two seasons ago when Perez made an untenable decision to let go Carlo Ancelotti -- something that will act as another stain on his resume until the end of time — you do have to appreciate the roster he’s allowed Zidane to construct.
Something is clicking now from a structural standpoint that just didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. While Real Madrid had a limited vision for the future in the past, the outlook five-ten years down the road has never been so exciting — and that’s a big statement to make, considering we are living in the era of the unrivalled Cristiano Ronaldo, with little worry about what’s forthcoming. This off-season, Mauricio Pellegrino will be graduating Marcos Llorente and Theo Hernandez from Alaves, where they will be moving on to the pastures of the Bernabeu. At that point, Real Madrid will officially be the deepest team on earth if they aren’t already — two deep (with outstanding quality) at every position, with plenty of juvenescence sprinkled throughout.
There was a time where everyone looked back with fondness on the galactico era — particularly from 2000 - 2003. The last of those three years was probably the best team of that cycle. That they didn’t win the Champions League that season was a disappointment (oh, how we rue that Luis Figo penalty miss against Juventus in the semi-final. A cut that remains deep no matter many years pass and how many stitches try to staple the unsealable laceration that it left). But that team gave us some unforgettable and aesthetically-pleasing football. It was fun. We kept referring back to it, because, for an unimaginable amount of time, that’s all we had.
The current harvest helps fans close the chapter of 2003 with some comfort and peace — and quite frankly, the book that’s being written now will endure for a long time, and will be much better than the book that was written 14 years ago. Embrace it. You have it better than most other fans in professional sports — you have my word.
Luka Modric, the father of Vicente Calderon’s last home game
Real Madrid treaded water for a solid 15-20 minutes in the second leg. The pressure was popping, and the atmosphere was volcanic. In other words, it was a difficult situation to be in, and it requires outstanding mental vigour and composure. Simeone’s scheme pinned Zidane’s men up until Greizmann’s penalty conversion. The Calderon was in a frenzy.
Guess who doesn’t give a shit about your drunk fans and hipster banners — Luka Modric. Our Croat pumped some dry ice into his veins before the game, froze his blood, and morphed into the serene unicorn that Real Madrid needed. In the middle of chaos, he demanded the ball, glided past challenges, distributed, and allowed Real Madrid to grow into the game.
Every match, I have a plethora of notes that I take throughout the game, minute-by-minute. Here’s what a section of my notepad looked like, under the ‘Luka’ section:
Normally for these columns, I’ll go through and gut the match of gifs and important low-radar moments that I thought were interesting. This match unfortunately was impossible to find in its full form online — a rare case, to be sure. I would say though, the below Modric video encapsulates the points in my notebook:
Further points included some of the ridiculous unpressed turnovers from Casemiro and Danilo. No gifs this week, for reasons stated above, but Gabe and I did both talk about this on last night’s podcast, and Om and I will be releasing a weekly tactical video about Real Madrid’s midfield in the next couple days.
With The Old Lady now awaiting Real Madrid in Cardiff, I’ve been asked to come up with some tactical solutions to break Juventus’ unmatched backline — that’s a tough ask. We discussed it a bit on last night’s podcast, but there are a lot of things to break down here — everything from Allegri’s ability to deal with Marcelo and Ronaldo on the flank by combatting it with the staunch Barzagli / Alves duo, to his ability to absorb and sling on the counter. They’re tough. This will likely be Real Madrid’s toughest test of the season. I’ll break this down after Real Madrid finish their league campaign — it’s still soon. I’ll also conjure up an article which outlines the historical significance of this matchup (similar to what I did for Marca before the Bayern clash). Real Madrid are likely up for this tall task (if not as a champion, then churning this into a proper dogfight), but it will take weeks of due diligence and film-watching for Zidane to map out a blueprint for a difficult final.