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Pre-Season Mailbag: Transfers & Predictions

Kiyan answers your questions on the right-back slot, Mariano, Mbappe, La Liga predictions, Castilla, historical comparisons, and more.

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.

Welcome to another edition of the mailbag. I try to write these about four times per year — pre-season, post-season, and a couple during the international breaks. They’re always fun.

Let’s get it.

How happy were we with Danilo last season? I mean like on a deep level — how comfortable were we with him? Danilo was good with the ‘B squad’, the one that blitzed through Leganes, Deportivo, etc. I don’t think he had the mental makeup to tread water in big games. He was a disaster in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Atletico, couldn’t shield the ball or win any physical battles, and just looked frail. What are the chances that Zidane looked at those big game performances over the past two seasons and said “I don’t think Achraf could be any worse”.

I really like Danilo. When we first signed him, I thought he had a fighting chance of dethroning Carvajal who had just come off a season where he made vital mistakes that cost the team in Europe. Danilo, meanwhile, at Porto, was a beast — cutting in and ripping rockets into the back of the net from distance, strong in the air, utilizing his tremendous pace to get back in position defensively, and three lungs in him to motor it all. I was excited to see how a Marcelo-Ronaldo / Danilo-Bale flank incursion would unfold for the next few years.

Danilo just never developed into that guy we had signed. Maybe the Bernabeu got to him. Maybe he’ll rediscover his form from 2015. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery. I’m rooting for him. But I don’t think the club is devastated inheriting 26m for him while rolling the dice on Achraf — or another right back — given that they felt like they had little to lose.

Up until a few weeks ago, I really didn’t think Achraf was ready to be Carvajal’s understudy. Truthfully, I’m still not sure this is a good idea. Hakimi still has some positional kinks to iron out of his system, some gambles that need to be recalculated, and a crossing-game that needs polishing. I’m also a fan of stepping stones. Carvajal had a stepping stone before he arrived. More successful players who had stepping stones before coming directly into the team: Vallejo, Llorente, Asensio, Vazquez. Those guys all earned vital experience. I always wonder — would Llorente be what he is today if he wasn’t in that situation with Alaves under Pellegrino? I’m not sure. I was really rooting for Achraf to have that too — just as I’m hoping Febas and Valverde get that invaluable experience this season.

But hey, the season is drawing nigh and Achraf is still here! I’m willing to accept that keeping Achraf around is a low-risk move that could work out really well, even if I’m skeptical of this being the finalized squad.

His pace is absurd. I’d love to see him and Theo battle it out in a 100 meter sprint.

My only plea to you all is to simmer down with your Achraf hot takes. Don’t grill him if he has a few bad games, and don’t say he’s surpassed Chendo if he has a few nice runs and assists by December.

Doing a written mailbag tomorrow for Managing Madrid. Feel free to send me any questions about Real Madrid / La Liga / Football / The Universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Friday, August 4, 2017

To clarify, Real Madrid have a couple clauses in the Mariano contract:

  1. They have first dibs on a buy-back (contrary to belief, there are ways to incorporate buy-backs in Ligue 1).
  2. They have a sell-on clause which sees them net 35% of the transfer fee should Lyon sell him.

I would’ve like to have seen Mariano continue with the team if the plan was to roll into next season without a back-up striker. I think he’s a 12-15 goal / season striker in La Liga — if not more. Zidane wanted to keep him, but Mariano really wanted to go somewhere where he could play, and I don’t blame him for licking his lips at potentially filling Lacazette’s boots. Now we get to see him terrorize Ligue 1 for a couple years then piggyback the sell-on clause for some extra cash.

Remember last season when I predicted that Real Madrid would repeat as European Champion? Well, guess what? Yours truly has done it again. Your welcome.

That we haven’t yet loaned Mayoral for the season worries me. Theoretically, he can ‘manage this level’, yes (I’m not in the camp of fans who sling dark clouds over his head. Dude is 20! He was really good in Castilla. He’s more versatile than Mariano and much younger) — but he needs to play regularly at this point, which he won’t do at Real Madrid. It would be different if he had played regular minutes last season with Wolfsburg, but he’s starving for playing time — he essentially hasn’t played since the 2015-16 season. Put him in a playing position somewhere, please.

It wouldn’t make sense to get anyone in the Dybala tier to hover around BBC + Asensio + Isco. It’s overkill. It barely makes sense to shoehorn Mbappe in, but the only reason we talk ourselves into a Kylian deal is because he’s a generational talent who’s versatile enough in attack that he could cover for both Ronaldo and Benzema from the left / central channels. I think if you wanted a Dybala / Hazard type of player to infest a deep loaded depth chart, you might as well have stuck with James.

If PSG don’t sign him, and he’s left to choose between Real Madrid and Barcelona, do we really need to do anything to twist his arm?

I think Barca will pay every penny Dortmund squeeze out of them for Dembele and call it a day.

There’s a good chance I’ll dedicate an entire Churros y Tácticas segment to Betis soon. They’ve had an incredible summer. They essentially used the Ceballos money and allocated it to Sergio Leon (one of my favourite players in La Liga last season), Victor Camarasa (Alaves glue-guy), and Ryan Boudebouz (a very creative player in his prime). They also brought in Cristian Tello, Andres Guadrado, and Zouhair Feddal to strengthen the team’s spine. Oh! And guess what! That terrible green thing they had to cover up the south end of the stadium for construction that made your eyes bleed? That’s going to be gone! I’m looking forward to watch the resurgence of Betis this season. It’s good news for La Liga.

Mbappe. Can’t win ‘em all.

As a reminder, Ondra Paul did a fantastic job of indexing all Castilla / Juvenil A transfer this season.

A Lucas Fernandes pick-up would be nice. Real Madrid have been scouting him for about a year now, though nothing concrete has taken place yet in terms of signing him. If he comes, he’d add a nice injection of flair in attack alongside Cristo given than Augusto Galvan will play for Juvenil A this season, and Sergio Diaz will be loaned out.

We're doing a written mailbag. Let us know if you have any questions!

Posted by Managing Madrid on Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Could Pique go one whole season without a single tweet? Sure, anything is possible!

Incredible. I’m not entirely sure how I lived 30 years of my life without him. He’s going to know more about Real Madrid at age two then I did at age 25.

This might be difficult for the majority of people in this situation, but I’d thrive in this scenario. I’d look that gunman in the eye and tell him Fernando Redondo. It would take me two seconds to say it — one to make eye contact, and the other to say Nando’s name. All due respect to Sergio Busquets who is one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation, and Xabi Alonso who is a legend — but Fernando Redondo in his prime could put an entire team on his back, bark out orders like a commander, and had enough silk in his touch to replace China and India’s entire combined fabric production. I miss him.

I’d rather keep an unhappy Morata and his 15 goals in 14 games than have an unhappy Kane.

The easy answer to this is that ‘football evolves’. 17 years ago, when Real Madrid were dominating possession with a double-pivot of Makelele-Helguera as the linchpins, I couldn’t fathom deviating from a scheme of two DMs; or a traditional 4-4-2 with pure wingers (Figo and Macca). Now I think teams have figured out that by packing the midfield with technical brainiacs, you can get the best of both worlds — defensive coverage and slinging possession while creating from multiple positions on the field. Basically what we saw against Juve in the final, and against Manchester United on Tuesday.

Ancelotti didn’t have much of Khedira to use, by the way. The Xabi - Khedira set-up was definitely a Mourinho go-to. It was also Ozil + Di Maria rather than Ozil or Di Maria. Kaka wasn’t counted on much, and Real Madrid’s best XI at that time was to spearhead the double-pivot with Ozil, Di Maria, Ronaldo, and Benzema / Higuain. Defensively, it would morph into a 4-4-2, with the entire team getting behind the ball if the press was broken into their own half. Offensively, for obvious reasons with the weapons provided — Ozil’s adhesive power, Di Maria and Ronaldo’s speed, Xabi’s precision — it was efficient on the counter.

And that was fun.

So is this era. Neither was wrong. Football evolves, but you also play to the strengths you have. I think Zidane has been masterful in being versatile in his tactics while getting the best out of the roster.

Don’t be worried! You’ll get to enjoy the Isco train for a long time once he extends before the season starts.

Messi during the Neymar era (all competitions):

2016/17: 54 goals
2015/16: 41 goals
2014/15: 57 goals
2013/14: 41 goals

Messi in the two years before the Neymar era:

2012/13: 60 goals
2011/12: 73 goals

You might be on to something. Are we in for a Westbrook blitz where he averages a hat-trick this season? Fine by me, so long as they’re an inferior team (which they will be).

I think France wins the World Cup, as predicted in my FourFourTwo piece. But comparing their depth chart to Spain is an interesting thinking exercise. Here is France’s depth:

Obviously, the order of the players is not necessarily accurate, but it gives you an idea how insultingly deep they are. Also, omissions: Giroud, Gameiro, Kimpembe, Koulibaly, Nasri, Evra, Perrin, Ruffier, Kondogbia, Mangala, probably more.

For comparison, I made one for Spain:

After I made this, I realized I actually forgot Koke, and probably others.

Both teams are ridiculous. I’ve had people tell me France’s depth is better than Spain’s, but I don’t see why it’s so clear-cut when you look at it this way. We better get a France-Spain final to settle this once and for all.

This is a recurring question. I wrote about 6000 words or so about this, so forgive me for directing you to a three recent articles, here, here, and here.

The big duck.

Diego Alves is gone to Brazil, so that frees up one space. Pound for pound, I do think Navas gets in the top three despite the heat he gets. Sergio Rico and Kepa hover close.


I’d like to see Kovacic come in for Modric with Ronaldo sliding in for Benzema.

Mendieta, Valeron, Ronaldinho, Pirlo.

Considering where he was at the beginning of last season — missing out on every cross, giving the ball away, not being able to parry away tame shots properly, and generally making blunders -- Luca Zidane has been good. He’s improved since then, and actually single-handedly kept Castilla in a few games last season. His strength is his reflexes. I like his growth. We need a full season of good performances from him to properly assess. Let’s revisit this question again.

Too soon. Cambiasso’s sale was low-key one of the biggest mistakes Perez has ever made and it never gets talked about because it’s overshadowed by the Makelele / Del Bosque / Ancelotti blunders. Cambiasso would’ve binded us as an anchor for several years at an elite level. He went on to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the game for several years. Casemiro is just beginning his journey. We’d need to see him do it for a good eight years the way Cuchu did to consider diving into this discussion.

The Jese door is closed. It might have been slightly open had he been able to rejuvenate his career, but he’s been a complete disaster in Paris and Gran Canaria.

No I want to stay on his good side.

Doing a written mailbag tomorrow for Managing Madrid. Feel free to send me any questions about Real Madrid / La Liga / Football / The Universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Friday, August 4, 2017

A cage match between Gravesen and Robinho, with DJ Drenthe spinning some gangsta tracks and Fabio Coentrao rolling up spliffs.

Doing a written mailbag tomorrow for Managing Madrid. Feel free to send me any questions about Real Madrid / La Liga / Football / The Universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Friday, August 4, 2017


Doing a written mailbag tomorrow for Managing Madrid. Feel free to send me any questions about Real Madrid / La Liga / Football / The Universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Friday, August 4, 2017

I don’t think Mbappe’s arrival would be related to Lucas Vazquez. To Zidane, Vazquez is the Nacho of the midfield — humble, diligent, professional, reliable, and versatile.

Doing a written mailbag tomorrow for Managing Madrid. Feel free to send me any questions about Real Madrid / La Liga / Football / The Universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Friday, August 4, 2017

Bruh, judging by the kid in your profile pic, you need your own godfather.

We're doing a written mailbag. Let us know if you have any questions!

Posted by Managing Madrid on Wednesday, August 9, 2017

‘Whoops’ to the first part.

Malaga will definitely take a backseat this season. They lost a lot of key players in Sandro, Camacho, Fornals, and of course, even though he didn’t play consistently all season, the promising Diego Llorente. Las Palmas though? I’m not sure, Roque Mesa leaving for such a low fee was a huge blow, but having Vitolo for half-a-season will be interesting. You’re probably right, though.

Teams I think will rise: Valencia, Betis, Espanyol, Deportivo.

Team i think will regress: Malaga, Sevilla (only slightly), Alaves, Villarreal.

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