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Post-Season Mailbag

Kiyan dives into a massive mailbag to talk about Mbappe, Morata, Vallejo, a solution to La Liga’s humdrum finish, and a ton more.

Juventus v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It’s the off-season. I’m not sure what to do with my hands, so I decided to delve deep into a mailbag.

Y’know, post-season discussion is always bitter sweet. On one hand, I get to dial it down — kick my feet up, enjoy the planet with my wife and incoming child, and maybe (definitely) watch an insultingly good (on paper) Spanish U-21 side colonize Poland this summer, at which point, I’ll have to have unearth a rebuttal to my wife when she asks ‘uh, I thought you said the season was over?’. Yes honey, good one. Newsflash: The season is never over. After the league wraps up, we watch the Champions League final. After the Champions League final, we watch grown men throw a round orange object into a 10ft hoop and thank the heavens someone came up with that ridiculous idea, and then we watch international tournaments, and then the next season starts three months later, and in between all that, we talk about transfers, kit unveils, and FIFA covers.

Lucky for me I have the best wife. On the night of Decima, she stayed with me until 5am at Cibeles just to partake in some mindless celebrating. It was awesome.

Rarely are there windows to write mailbags. I typically like to sling them out during international breaks as well as the post-season, when fans are so anxious about transfers that our mentions get filled with an irrational amount of questions. Here’s my way of streamlining them:

Is ‘salty’ really the right word? I’d say we’d be less sodium-bloated and more emotionally confused. We all love Morata, I think we all genuinely want him to succeed. This is the perpetual Morata problem though — he wants to start; but he can’t. Carlo couldn’t give him minutes over Benzema, so he went to Juve where he had a really good rookie season in Serie A. But then he lost his place, rarely started (though he did usually find a place in the bigger games), and no longer had a guaranteed spot. I think at the end of the 2015/2016 season, he looked at things more objectively and thought to himself ‘I’m not going to be a guaranteed starter at any big club, so I might as well fight for my place in the club I love’.

And look, I love Alvaro Morata. I was the biggest advocate of bringing him back last summer. His return solved so many depth issues. But can we really say no to 70 million? He’s a really great player and will almost certainly keep improving, but he’s also not a starter, nor is he completely irreplaceable. Everyone’s hands are tied here. Real Madrid’s hands are tied because they could pay off Mbappe’s transfer fee by selling two less-than-thrilled players in Morata and James (I’m with it, by the way), and Morata’s hands are tied because he wants to play.

You’re not necessarily wrong if you think Morata should start for Real Madrid and that’s that, but it’s not easy to implement your pushy ideas, and Zidane has earned our trust by now when it comes to roster management. Ronaldo has morphed into the second-choice striker, both as a starter, but also as an in-game tactical shuffle. It’s worked. Morata did churn out the second-most goals on the team, but his goals came against these teams: Leganes, Sporting Gijon, Deportivo, Granada, Villarreal, Espanyol, Real Sociedad, Bilbao, and Celta. Only three of those teams were in the top-seven, the rest were 13th or lower. That’s not a knock on Alvaro who can only take advantage of what’s put in front of him — but it’s an important perspective to have when slapped with ‘Morata was the second-highest scorer on the team’ as the be-all end-all.

Morata is now in the same spot he was at the end of the 2015-2016 season — unsure where he fits, and unsure what to do about it. If he leaves this time, he’s gone for good. There will be no buy-back, no doors open, and no bridges left un-charred. That hurts, but you might have to show some detachment if the team can build a better squad without him. Unlike the summer of 2016, there are a couple doors open for Morata at big clubs that could offer him playing time. Zlatan’s injury and departure at Old Trafford might set off some dominoes and open a slot as a starter; and Milan, though had fallen off the face of the earth in recent years, have had a terrific summer already and look to be building something exciting. He could start there, and would be a really intriguing fit alongside / in competition with Andre Silva, given that Carlos Bacca is leaving too.

But, as it stands, United seems a more reasonable destination given that they’re willing to offer more, which ultimately is the trump card. Everyone could win in that situation. Real Madrid receive maximum money from the sale, Morata gets to avoid playing for a non-Juve Italian team, and, unfortunately, in soul-crunching manner, Manchester United obtain a great and promising striker.

This is an example of a fun question. I welcome questions like this. Sambit, you’ve done your duty as a loyal Managing Madrid mailbag reader. I’m going to spoil you now like the gracious god I am.

*This list does not take into consideration active players

Top five defensive / central midfielders

  1. Fernando Redondo
  2. Xabi Alonso
  3. Pirri
  4. Claude Makelele
  5. Ignacio Zoco

Another day, feel free to ask me about more detailed positions, because that’s when it gets really interesting. The above position is one that historically hasn’t spoiled Real Madrid. This will change, no doubt, once Modric and Kroos retire. The lists for top-five wingers / attacking midfielders / forwards become much more onerous. Some of my favourite players in the club’s history won’t even make the top-five cut in those positions.

I prefer to keep active players out of the discussion, because it brings me too many headaches to start comparing players before their careers are done and dusted. Yes, there are multiple players from this current era that will make the all-time cut once their boots are hung up, but let’s save it for then.

Honourable mentions here: Vicente Del Bosque, Jose Maria Zarraga, Miguel Munoz, and our beloved Guti.

First of all, ‘going bald’ and ‘shaving your head’ are two separate things. Zidane went bald. Keylor Navas shaved his head. One is a choice, one is submission to life. Zidane traded his hair away in exchange for super human gifts — I respect that. I’d do the same.

Of this current generation, I expect Carvajal to go bald first. He has a receding hair line, which is only noticeable when you stand him up next to everyone else on the team who has hair flowing from their scalp. Next to go is Coentrao, due to ‘natural causes’, aka someone will shave his head when he passes out drunk in the bathtub. Or he will do it himself when he is drunk in the bathtub.

Fun and important fact: Four out of six members of the coaching staff are bald.

I believe this is highly correlated with trophies. Currently, per two bald coaching staff members, Real Madrid has received one trophy. If the entire coaching staff converts, we’ll have the treble in our hands.

Sign this.

Our spine is bonded together by demigods. Once Marcos and Theo are announced, we’re officially (at least) two deep in every position. From a pure necessity standpoint, fab, your doubts are validated.

Three questions that may arise are as follows:

  1. Is Vallejo’s health stable enough to warrant going into next season with four center backs when your other three center backs include a card collection agent and another on-and-off injured player? Is Vallejo strong enough (in Frankfurt he’s conceded goals on set-pieces and crosses while being outmuscled / beaten to the ball) to fit alongside Nacho in a 4-4-2?
  2. If that’s not enough, and you want some extra security, would bringing back Diego Llorente stifle his development? Four CBs (with this current mix of defenders) may not be enough, five could be overkill.
  3. If both Mariano and Morata leave (the former will most likely be sold with a buy-back option), then you have to fill that gap with someone, given that Ronaldo can’t be your only solution as a Benzema back-up. Mayoral is returning from Wolfsburg, but finding him a new home will be at the top of this summer’s agenda. So what does this all mean?

Mmmbop, ba duba dop

Ba du bop, ba duba dop

Ba du bop, ba duba dop

Ba du, yeah

Mmmbop, ba duba dop

Ba du bop, ba du dop

Ba du bop, ba du dop

Ba du, yeah

This is the last day to get your mailbag questions in. Aiming to write it tomorrow. Ask me about Real Madrid stuff. Or other things.

‎Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on‎ יום שלישי 13 יוני 2017

I’ve been vocal about this. I had the chance to watch Vallejo quite a bit this season. After Marcos Llorente, he’s my second-love child. Actually, I love both my children equally, and am a proud father to both. I would have been fine with whatever we decided to do with Vallejo. On one hand, he could work on a couple things (like defending crosses, as I mentioned above), and I’d love to see him develop at Frankfurt one more season. On the other hand he is a generational talent, was one of the Bundesliga’s best defenders before he got injured, and was mind-blowing to the point that Frankfurt’s defense fell off a cliff after his injury. He is an elite passer, a vertical butcher, and a brainiac who laughs at attackers trying to press him before he glides away from tight spaces and finds an outlet. He is really good. He is ready.

He’s probably the most exciting defender that’s come up through the Spanish ranks in years. This is an exciting time for Spanish football. Once Yeray hopefully recovers from his testicular cancer (stay strong, Yeray. You beat it once, you’ll beat it again), Spain’s spine looks insanely good, especially when you throw Jorge Mere into the mix. Yeray’s unfortunate departure from the camp will mean Vallejo has more of a chance to start now, probably alongside Mere. That’s something to look out for. Simon Harrison and I discussed this a bit on our latest Churros y Tácticas podcast.

Again, the only concern I have apart from him and Nacho facing crosses and set-pieces together, is his health. I would be lying if I said this summer’s tournament didn’t give me anxiety. I just want him to be healthy heading into pre-season.

Bale would lick his lips if he was given this role consistently. This is where he wants to play — maybe not as a CF specifically, but in a role as a 10 or behind the striker(s). He thrived under Rafa behind Benzema in a few games. I doubt we’ll see much of it, but I do like him there. Roaming Bale is the best Bale, and from that role, he can roam the way Isco does in the diamond.

There has never been anything concrete — nothing from anyone reputable. He’s a great player that Cristiano Ronaldo has publicly praised as his heir, and that’s about as close as it ever came.

You pouring salt into my gaping lacerations, Nadim? I didn’t think he would play at this level this far into his career. I have never been more wrong about anything in my life. Here is a list of people and things that Ronaldo has defied:

  1. Physics
  2. Father Time
  3. Pique
  4. Science
  5. Kiyan
  6. The Universe
  7. Coentrao

That’s an impressive list.

Look, sports science has evolved in ways that bends all of our minds. Ronaldo takes care of himself more than any of us take care of anything. He’s a specimen for a reason — he grinds and fuels properly. When you’re this good physically, you can keep performing. So to answer your question, I think we’ll have another two years of unicorn Ronaldo. He’ll score less, play less, but keep his efficiency and clutch levels. He’ll also set a trend. We’ll look back in 25 years and say, ‘Ronaldo was the the first one to really set the trend of great athletes staying in their peak beyond the norm’. One day, Ronaldo’s level of fitness will become the norm, but Ronaldo himself will be the pioneer.

I don’t understand the question.

Yes, both will continue weekly. We love talking about football too much to abandon either. Plus, we can’t disappoint all our patrons — we love them just as much as we love football. The Managing Madrid Podcast will be doing some cool features this summer. There will be some history segments, but also some other cool things, like one episode coming out this week with Nat Lezra (Gabe’s brother) who’s making a documentary about Real Madrid Peñas.

There will always be stuff to talk about on the Churros y Tácticas Podcast too. It’s been a joy having so many great Spanish journalists join me. Way more to come.

Thanks for listening man.

On this week’s Managing Madrid Podcast I proclaimed that Mbappe is the Giannis of football — a freakishly good and athletic talent who comes along once a generation, if that. Yes, Zidane would make it work. I’ve never been one to sign for luxury — I’ve always preferred continuity and growth without drowning in superfluousness. But Mbappe has triggered me. Back in February I said he’d be the only one I’d consider shoehorning in because he is that special. Plus Zidane will likely be doing the ol’ James + Morata 2-for-1. Financially, it’s fine, and your depth chart actually will be less cluttered than last season. Mbappe can play anywhere in the front-three. And with Ronaldo resting more, plus Benzema not having another back-up, this move absolutely makes sense.

They’re both fantastic, and I love them very much. But put it this way: would you rather part ways with James, or one of Isco / Asensio? It’s a no-brainer. Cash in. Your hands are tied. I don’t think ‘haunt’ is the right word. Celebrate them, thank them, wish them the best, and build.

In a way it all depends on how that money is being used. Until now, Spanish clubs, with a smaller (albeit still decent) budget, have used their money far wiser than EPL clubs have. While English teams splashed their money, the scouting has been much better in Spain, and I think that’s part of the reason they’ve done so much better in Europe. The benefit of having less cash is you’re more pragmatic with it.

I’m not saying its ideal having less cash, but I’m saying I was impressed with how La Liga teams built their squads this season.

The reality is that Real Madrid can no longer rely solely on finances anymore. Their financial muscle is now shared in the same ring as a bunch of other clubs. Now the pitch is more than just money: it’s silverware, it’s culture, it’s being in an elite atmosphere. Jose Angel Sanchez, Real Madrid’s CEO, is well aware of this issue. But I think you’re seeing one of the potential fruits now. Just look at Real Madrid’s squad, and the transfers the club has made. When you’re being outgunned financially, the importance of Castilla grows exponentially.

Another perk: Arsenal paid Deportivo 20 million for a third-choice striker. In a way, the money does trickle down.

I’m a huge fan of them both. I think Mariano will set the league on fire if they loan him to Malaga. He has a lot of tools. It’s scary, but I actually think Mayoral has an even higher ceiling than Mariano. That might be crazy to say given he didn’t play a lick at Wolfsburg this season, but he’s so versatile and so talented (and still so young), that I think he’ll turn it around. He has time on his side.

If you want to read more about him, read this article I wrote for FourFourTwo last year. Not much has changed given that there hasn’t been any development in Wolfsburg. To answer your question, I do like the idea, but it’s too soon, and neither of them will have that role next season.

This is the last day to get your mailbag questions in. Aiming to write it tomorrow. Ask me about Real Madrid stuff. Or other things.

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I actually do think it would’ve made more sense to keep Morata over Benzema. But certain dominoes need to fall tactically for that to make sense (we discussed this here). Also important to note: Ronaldo has a say. Zidane has a say. They are two extremely important figures who should have a say in the scheme, culture, and identity. That stuff really matters.

I’m with it. You’re preaching to the choir. How have we gone this long into the 21st century without realizing we need to shake things up to suck in some more eyeballs towards the tail end of the season? Half the teams in the league have nothing to play for. Add a dose of cayenne pepper to this bland meal. Throw in some damn wasabi.

Teams fighting against relegation at the end of the season: Sporting, Leganes, Deportivo.

Teams fighting for the title at the end of the season: Real Madrid, Barcelona.

Teams sipping Piña Coladas at the end of the season: Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol, Alaves, Eibar, Malaga, Valencia, Celta, Las Palmas, Real Betis.

We need a revolution. Here’s your solution:

Relegation and Europa League playoffs. Teams will jostle for position until the final matchday, looking to get the highest seed they possibly can to avoid strong opponents in, get ready for it, THE ULTIMATE ONE-LEG KO TOURNAMENT — SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. The bottom six teams would square off to see which three ultimately survive; while teams 5th-10th would do the same for the Europa League slots. That would leave four teams left-out as our ‘treadmill teams’. We’ll get to them in a moment.

This would be what the playoffs would look like for the relegation zone had it gone down this season:

Real Betis vs Granada — Boga gives Betis an initial scare with a freak goal after launching a 40-yard fireball. Joaquin misses three open nets. Ochoa has the game of his life before letting in a back-pass. From there, Granada collapse and Betis win 3-1. Ceballos tweets some anti-Pique propaganda and the corpse of Ruben Castro calls it a career. “I’ve decided to retire on top.

Deportivo vs Osasuna — Deportivo go into this game thinking it’s just another league game. Pepe Mel didn’t get the memo that his team needs to stop sleepwalking when they’re in danger. Sergio Leon scores four goals, causing a massive upset. Later in the week, Arsenal purchase him for 60m.

Leganes vs Sporting Gijon — Not even a contest. Butarque is lit. This is a blowout.

Europa League playoffs:

Villarreal vs Eibar — How good is this? Villarreal, the second best defense in the league, just completely choke. They collapse in the midst of an Inui onslaught. Eibar make history.

Real Sociedad vs Alaves — This is close. Alaves defend well, and Ibai misses a golden chance in the 79th minute. It’s 0-0 until Carlos Vela heads in a scrambled goal from a set-piece in the 90th minute on a very stormy night in San Sebastien. Heartbreak for Pellegrino’s men.

Athletic Bilbao vs Espanyol — As much as Espanyol improved over the course of the season, they just couldn’t overturn a powerful and determined Bilbao side at a frenzied San Mames.

You on board yet?

Our four treadmill teams: Malaga, Valencia, Celta, Las Palmas. We can either 1) accept that we do nothing with these teams, given they’ll be fighting all season to either avoid the relegation playoff, or to make the Europa League playoff; or 2) rent out the colosseum in Barcelona, put all four teams into the ring, and add four tigers. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which option brings more excitement.

The universe just folded.

DeRozan is incredible. His offensive blitz to start the season blew my mind, and I love the way he defies the evolution of the NBA’s game by being unstoppable in the mid-range. I think most people appreciate him for what he is. Maybe I don’t ride in the same circles as you, as I haven’t met many people who don’t appreciate him.

Few things: James Harden is a great passer. I don’t think DeRozan is better in that regard, though I do think DeMar made huge leaps in that category. I agree the Raptors need to surround him with better shooters. The financial flexibility is tight to add them though. You’re going to rely on Carroll spending this off-season recover and getting healthy (he’s not going anywhere) and getting back to his Atlanta days. At any rate, in Norm we trust.

I understand the charm in De Gea -- youth, upside, talent, Spanish, marketable — but I’m on the Keylor train, as are Zidane, Cristiano, and others within the team. I think you could gamble sticking with Keylor for two more seasons when De Gea will become a free agent, then take your swipe — or, you know, break the bank for Donna.

Keylor is one of the most likeable players this club has had this century. The team loves him. That stuff matters. He also looks back to his pre-injury form, which, really matters.

Having said that, if someone put a gun to my head and said ‘DDG or death’? I’d say ‘welcome David!’

Yeah, Marcos will have his shot. I think he might have a similar role to what Asensio had this season — playing sporadically and impressing in his limited minutes, before gradually working his way into the team more prominently as the season progresses. Zidane will still trust Casemiro in do-or-die games.

Marcos will almost certainly be our ‘Copa DM’. Think about that for a second. Our second-string defensive midfielder who will play in the domestic cup just happens to be a generational talent who can read the game like a field general. Exciting times, right?

Healthy Bale is a samurai unicorn hybrid and top-five player. He’ll start. Though, I think Zidane will be creative in finding ways to fit both Isco and Bale together. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We have enough sample size to know that this is possible.

I had to google this. It’s so weird. Get outside more.

We cover Real Madrid — a team with billions of fans residing in every nook and cranny on earth. It’s irrational to think that a percentage of these infinite amount of people aren’t irrational. I wrote about it here.

Yeah, he’s great. He was one of the few bright spots of Castilla this season. Solari didn’t do many great things this year, but one thing he did that I really enjoyed was going to a Febas - Valverde duo in midfield. That was really fun. They were a handful for opposing teams — always harassing without the ball and so quick to hit on the counter. Out of the two, Valverde is definitely behind Febas when it comes to ‘making it to the first team’ -- and to be frank, neither of them will do it anytime soon. They reside in the most stacked position on the team.

I’m not sure about Valverde, but I’m hopeful Febas makes it eventually. He’s insanely good. Alex Kirland, Sam Sharpe, and myself raved about him in our Castilla podcast last week.

This is the last day to get your mailbag questions in. Aiming to write it tomorrow. Ask me about Real Madrid stuff. Or other things.

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I think we’ll be OK.

This is the last day to get your mailbag questions in. Aiming to write it tomorrow. Ask me about Real Madrid stuff. Or other things.

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I just want to say that the picture below, from the Corazon Classic, brought back a lot of fond memories. The Raul - Morientes duo was so great. This photo is the perfect end to the mailbag:

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