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Modric laid his life in the path of Danilo

This week’s column: On Raul’s silencing of the Camp Nou in 1999, Real Madrid’s right flank, and more.

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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.

This has been the most enjoyable league campaign since 2012. Nay, it’s been better — more satisfying. That fond 2012 side was a counter-attacking battalion that absorbed and slingshotted their opponents into various galaxies and dimensions — it had also wrapped up the league in Barcelona with four games to go on the back of a Ronaldo tornado, which, in turn, provided us with the most iconic celebration at the Camp Nou since Raul’s hush in 1999. That was good, but I’d argue that the more drama and uneasiness suffered en route to a title, the sweeter it is. There is a reason that, in Lisbon, after 12 years and an extra 92 minutes of pain, Sergio Ramos unleashed our souls into another universe after it was trapped in a cage of misery.

Now here’s what’s going to happen: You’re going to read the next paragraph and be very confused about the twist this article is about to take — because it’s going to be nothing about La Liga titles anymore. It’s going to be about one game in 1999 that has nothing to do with anything. But that’s what Kiyan’s Observations are all about. It’s the one time, every week, where I can be myself and make my own rules. I started writing this post about how thrilling this league title was; spontaneously plugging in Raul’s iconic hush — and that just opened up a whole new portal of consciousness.

Real Madrid in 1999 were in a weird place, man. Early into the season, they went through a much needed facelift by cutting off the John Toshak branch, then twisting into the ground and unearthing its roots completely — replanting it with the seed of Vicente Del Bosque, and commencing a new era. Along with Vinny Del B, important figures like Steve McManaman, Ivan Helguera, and Michel Salgado arrived that season — all of whom became key members of the club moving forward. Those new faces supported a nice spine of Raul, Redondo, Hierro, Casillas, and Roberto Carlos. That was a fun team, and it was laced with other likeable figures like Morientes and Savio; as well as the tail-end of Monolo Sanchis’ career.

That team was so weird man. I’ve never seen a team be so bad and so good. They came fifth in La Liga that season. It was a disaster. Even if they were enduring very, very good La Liga opponents across the board — Super Depor, Mendieta’s Valencia, Contra / Moreno’s Alaves, a very strong Zaragoza side — they underwhelmed with the squad they had. But somewhere along the way in Europe; Raul, Redondo, McManaman, and Roberto Carlos just took matters into their own hands and decided to be the first team in history to slay the two finalists from the previous year’s Champions League final — Manchester United, Bayern Munich — before blitzing Valencia in Paris for the Octavo. Their triumph in Paris was the only reason they qualified for the Champions League in 2001. It was akin superior to Mourinho putting his eggs in the Europa League basket on Wednesday.

Real Madrid 1999-2000 was basically a team of legends who decided to flip a switch when they needed to and then took a nap for the remaining six months of the season. Basically Redondo woke up on Wednesday April 19th, rolled out of bed, and was like ‘We should probably win today at Old Trafford. Imma pull some epic shit out of my ass and ruin Henning Berg’s life and make him question why his mother ever game birth to him’.

That season had plenty of those kinds of moments, and they mostly all came in the clutch stages of the European stage. Beyond that, Raul basically sent out a memo to the staff that read ‘Ok you guys nap I’ll score 29 goals. Nikolas please let me know when you wake up’.

Plug: I appeared on the Yesteryear Football Podcast (1:21:45) a few days ago to talk about this very specific Real Madrid side

And that’s kind of why Real Madrid 1999-2000 has a weird and special place in my heart. That was a very likeable team, as confounding as it was. It had some great players in their prime — none more charming than Raul. Not for me, anyway. If you’ve followed my work, you know the station that I hold Redondo to, but Raul is on his own pagoda, in a room at the highest peak, sitting at the head table where maybe five other players sit at. This table includes Alfredo, Ferenc, and Zinedine. One day Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcos Llorente will join. If you disagree with this table, feel free to make your own table across the street (I am definitely going to write a 2000 word article outlining the different table tiers in the Club’s history once the season is finished).

Raul gave us all kinds of gifts. One of them was that iconic hush at the Camp Nou, which was extra delicious because it washed down a lot of sodium and therefore discharged a lot of frustration. That was Real Madrid’s second goal of that Clasico and the fourth goal of the night. It was the goal that gave Real Madrid a point after a gruelling, and extra spicy Clasico.

Not that your typical Clasico isn’t savage, but this one in particular had some blood spilt. After Savio gunned down the left flank to beat Guardiola with pace, he crossed it into an unmarked Raul at the near post who scored his first of two goals that night. It was disgusting defending from Barcelona (I miss you Michael Reiziger). Then Rivaldo equalized past a helpless Bodo Illgner. Then hell ensued on earth. Luis Figo (at that time, an open anti-Madridista) and Luis Enrique were extra ravenous and did their best to rile up the Barcelona fans.

Ensuing moments that Satan would be proud of: Reiziger went studs-in late on Savio’s shins, Sergi committed a handball-goal-saving clearance from an Anelka header that was uncalled, Luis Figo cut inside to score a left-footed goal near post (not particularly evil, but a necessary anecdote), Patrick Kluivert turned into an angry Hulk (but without the superpowers, the muscles, or anything else that’s cool about the Hulk, so he was really just an annoying chihuahua) and screamed at the referee for four years before Guardiola had to say ‘yo calm down this is embarrassing now’, Redondo stuck his claws in Rivaldo’s face (and you already know that Rivaldo reacts in terror when the winds on the far-side of Jupiter blow so just imagine what an actual finger to the face would do to him); Luis Enrique, Puyol, and Guardiola all tried to pick a fight with Savio, before Morientes and Van Gaal (who ran off the bench) had to try and break it up, and Luis Figo put a cleat on the back of Salgado’s heel.

Remember in 2012 when Ozil fought the entire Barcelona team on his own and then both benches got into a royal rumble on the sideline, and Kaka was just standing in the back holding hands with Dani Alves? Raul in 1999 was kind of like that, but he wasn’t holding hands with anyone, and instead of standing around looking for peace, he decided to put matters into his own hands.

Like I said, Raul is at his own damn table.

Two Observations

Luka Modric did everything in his powers to help Danilo

I’ve had a suspicious feeling for about a year now that we haven’t seen peak Modric yet. I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to say about a 31-year-old, but hear me out: Modric has been unbelievable this season. I’ve talked about this here, here, and here. I’m not sure where Real Madrid would be without his brain and talent, and I’m not sure if they’d be in Cardiff in June if not for the fact he slowed down time itself at the Calderon in the Champions League. Like I said in this week’s Churros y Tácticas podcast (18:25), once Modric hangs up his boots, there’s a more than good chance we’ll have to start incorporating him into our all-time Real Madrid XIs.

There are a couple interesting things to note about the diamond formation which aren’t entirely negative. Yes, defensively, it looks vulnerable; and yes, Juve’s flanks are strong, and essentially built to combat a Marcelo / Ronaldo flank where coverage is sparse — those are all caveats. But, on the flipside, we do get to enjoy Modric controlling things from a deeper position, Toni Kroos hedging a little more forward to play incisive through-balls while being relieved of certain defensive duties, and Isco roaming freely and glueing the transition from defense to attack. The most amazing thing about all this is that, Luka Modric, engine of the midfield and not particularly known for being a presence on the right flank, occupied that position last weekend against Malaga better than most pure, traditional right wingers can.

Against Malaga, Danilo struggled in being in the right places (more on this later). Modric didn’t. He was intercepting passes that otherwise would have led to waves of attack from a very good and determined Malaga side. His understanding of the game and ability to cut off passing lanes is just so good.

He tracks the pass before it’s even made:

If he’s not hoodwinking you into making a risky pass down the lane he’s already zipped up, Modric is just closing you down:

Offensively, we know Luka is pragmatic and always an aesthetic unicorn with the ball, but we’re still not truly used to seeing him do things like this on the right flank, where he easily glides past Ricca to swing in a cross:

I repeat: Luka Modric is not a winger.

Danilo’s recognition on defense needs improvement

While we’ve enjoyed some really fantastic moments from Danilo in his appearances with the ‘B’ team, he’s been worryingly vulnerable in big games -- including the trip to Malaga where Michel made it a point to attack his flank over and over again. He still lacks strength on the ball, but beyond that, needs to have better recognition of where he needs to be defensively. He takes gambles that needed to be gutted from his system. Here, he stops tracking Sandro altogether, assuming Ramos is covering for him without actually checking his blindspot to be sure:

On the following sequence in transition, he hedges so far centrally that Jony is free to make a darting run unmarked on Malaga’s left flank. It isn’t until Marcelo points out to Danilo that he needs to track the far-post run that Danilo realizes he’s goofed. The ball doesn’t get to Jony, but if it does, Real Madrid is in trouble.

All signs point to Carvajal getting ready in time for Cardiff (and if you don’t believe the reports, just check him hopping up and down during the post-Malaga celebrations). But in the off-chance he can’t, Nacho has to start.

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