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.
New season, more scheduling anxiety
Last season, mapping out the weekend schedule was tough. I’d circle Real Madrid’s game, then around that, would prioritize Castilla, Alaves (Llorente), Frankfurt (Vallejo), Heerenveen (Odegaard), and then circle back to watch the entirety of the La Liga schedule for the Churros y Tácticas Podcast. I mean, look: I’d be silly to complain. I would do this for free if I could. It’s amazing, it’s fun. Luka’s started to watch the games alongside me. Half the time he’s sleeping or farting on my lap, but I’m convinced that he’s absorbing the spirit of Madridisimo, even if he’s currently unaware of its effects.
Having Luka around makes it more special this year; but even with Llorente and Vallejo’s return, the schedule juggling hasn’t mitigated. On Sunday, Castilla played at the same time as Zaragoza (Aleix Febas, another son of mine, middle child and younger sibling of Marcos Llorente, is there on loan) and CD Lugo (currently hosting loanee Sergio Diaz), which, also overlapped with La Liga matches.
No biggie. Neither Sergio Diaz nor Aleix Febas started for their respective teams (both came on in the last 15-20 minutes of their matches), so the choice to watch Castilla was easy. But here’s where I realized the problem truly lies: It’s not about scheduling, or my selfishness in organizing my weekend, or asking the world to revolve around my Real Madrid-centred life. It really is important to get Castilla to Segunda.
We always talk about the difficulty in sustaining continuity in Castilla — the roster is unearthed every season, the team perpetually starts from scratch, and even within the jumbled calendar, players are loaned out or called-up to the A team and European youth team. It’s tough. It’s ever-changing. Rhythm is dabbled.
One way around that is to get to the highest level attainable — in this case, Segunda. You could argue that player development should trump results, but flip it this way — a winning culture matters, and being in control of player development matters even more. Real Madrid couldn’t twist Wolfsburg’s arm into giving Mayoral more playing time last season, and they can’t bring the hammer down on Zaragoza or CD Lugo either. As a result, they sit back and hope. It’s a helpless game.
To be sure, clubs shouldn’t be expected to farm players for big teams just because. Chris Moar told me in August he’s not a fan of these loan deals because it’s not always mutually beneficial.
Chris has a point. Marcos Llorente was in the most ideal situation imaginable last season. He had continually improved with Castilla the year before, but made a leap under Pellegrino no one could see, and was a top-five defensive midfielder in La Liga last season at worst. In return? Alaves took a gamble on a rental, had a memorable season, and are likely going back down to Segunda for 2018.
For every Llorente, Vallejo, and Carvajal; there’s a Febas, Diaz, and Valverde — the latter three of which haven’t seen much playing time in different waters, and it has little to do with their own talent-levels. All three of them are special. This is where being in Segunda would be ideal. You’d be playing against teams like Zaragoza, and at a high enough level where the desperation and headache to loan players out becomes secondary. There are just too many dominoes involved behind the scenes when you’re stuck in the Segunda B treadmill.
Jumbled notes from Castilla’s first two matches
- Jose Leon, Castilla’s new captain and oldest player, looks older than Santiago Solari.
- I share the happiness of Sam Sharpe about the match against Coruxo; even if he may have exaggerated just a pinch (God love Sam, may he live forever, he’s the best dude covering Castilla on earth), but given how laborious Castilla can be on the eye, I don’t blame him for un-bottling some emotion. It was the first time in a long time Castilla dominated a match and looked really good.
- Jaume, the anchor, is an interesting prospect. His positioning can be a bit wonky at times, but he can carry the ball up the field better than your traditional defensive midfielder and can dispossess players.
- Even with Achraf graduating, Castilla’s full-back rotation looks good with Tejero (at this point, he’s a level above Segunda B), Quezada (God, I missed his left foot), and Reguilon — who’s returned from Lugroñes and has immediately impressed on the left flank.
- New signing Cristo is really fun, but I’m not entirely sure Solari knows what to do with him (sound familiar?). He’s been pushed out wide a lot, but with Tenerife, he did a lot of damage down the middle -- creating space for himself and scoring from just outside the box. Even still, he had two assists on the weekend, and is a helpful addition amid the exodus of flair from last season.
- Having Oscar Rodriguez and Dani Gomez around this season is special. It’s intangible, but in the most cliché way possible, they ‘bleed white’. There is something about them that foreshadows them laying their life on the pitch in a big game at the Bernabeu in the future. They have not been other-worldly good or anything, and they may not get a sniff of first team action, but the early signs are promising. Oscar will shoot from anywhere, anytime — regardless of how much space he has in front of him. He hasn’t connected yet, but given his track record in Juvenil and pre-season, it’s only a matter of time he gets his long-range fix. Dani Gomez? Hungry, driven, combative (think Ceballos), a knack for goal. His efficiency isn’t quite there yet despite getting on the scoresheet on Sunday, but I’m looking forward to following him closely.
So, how’s Odegaard?
Just fine, thanks. The press loves throwing shade at this kid, but he just keeps himself grounded and works hard. He’s a regular with Heerenveen now, and they’ve started to channel a lot of their play through him.
He drifts centrally from the right side, dribbling in tight spaces with his left foot and never shy to provide the outlet. Something to note is Jurgen Streppel’s scheme, which allows Odegaard some freedom from deep defensive tracking, conserving his energy for pressing and hounding defenders higher up the pitch and running at players on offense.
Odegaard has a nice, versatile game that is being polished. He’ll carry the ball up the field in a pinch, play through-balls, or an important key pass. He also plays in a nice, dangerous dead-ball.
The final ball and ensuing foul are not a work of art; but the crux of this clip is essentially what he does for a living — being in a position to carry the ball up field from the right-to-central channels, staying unnerved in tight spaces, distributing, then getting back into a position that’s conducive to ball retention and chance curation. Give him a bit more space, and he can slice you with pass or eel his way in for a strike:
Here, he makes a run on the right flank, receives a fortuitous pass, holds the ball — slowing the game down to wait for the right run — and picks out an unmarked man to strike up a clear-cut chance:
It will be a relief getting Odegaard ‘closer to home’ — getting accustomed to La Liga, or in a scenery surrounded with better talent.
As always, Martin Odegaard is fine!
Finn: The G.O.A.T
You may have noticed there’s an actual piece of artwork to go with my column now. Our resident cartoonist, Finn, e-mailed it to me out of the blue last week:
"I made a logo for the 'Kiyan's Observations' section.
You deserve a lot of respect, so um, this is the least I can do as a fan of yours.
I hope u like it though".
Uh, hell ya I like it. Tens of thousands of words just got validated. If you haven't checked out Finn's work yet, you can find it here.
On Wednesday, we’re launching our new mid-week ‘Patron-only’ Managing Madrid Podcast. Don’t worry, for those of you general listeners, we’ll still continue our weekly Sunday night show — but if you suffer from FoMo, or want access to mid-week Champions League / La Liga / Mailbag coverage, sign up here.