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Dissecting Castilla’s early season success formula...

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Why have Castilla been so good? Newly instated superintendent chief legend Sam Sharpe takes a closer look...

It is a seemingly dismal time to be a Real Madrid fan. The first team are failing to pull in results and even score a standard number of goals during the last few fixtures. If you follow Castilla however, then you would have plenty of reasons to be as optimistic as ever. The reserve side have coasted through their first nine league games - winning five, and drawing the remaining four. They have only failed to score on one occasion, and have kept a clean sheet for a third of their games so far. They currently sit in third place in the Segunda División B group I table. If you are a long time Castilla follower, then the recent form will have shocked you in the same way it has shocked me. Of course, a number of things have visibly changed from the miserable season’s that Santiago Solari undertook prior. During this article we will be assessing some of the factors that have played a part in Castilla’s accomplished start to the 2018/19 campaign.

Santiago Solari

Santiago Solari has been the worst coach in Real Madrid Castilla history, and you will struggle to find a poorer professional coach worldwide. This is likely because of the name he made as a player, allowing him to fastrack through the coaching pathway with no real need to prove himself to anyone. In his previous two seasons, Solari flirted with the relegation zone despite having two better squads consisting of some top quality prospects. Some of those prospects have declined beyond their wildest dreams at the direct hand of Solari, costing not only themselves, the team, and the club their bright futures, but also millions of euros. This season, however, has seen some slight retribution, as the team have gone from relegation battlers to early promotion chasers.

So what has changed for Santiago? The biggest change so far has been the implementation of a system within the team. It sounds so simple now, but for the previous two years Solari simply chose eleven players, usually in a 4-3-3 type formation, and then sat back and played the role of spectator, with seemingly no feedback being relayed from game to game. With no game plan in the slightest to follow, players became tactically inept, causing them to stand out in a negative light when the time came to move on to other clubs. For this season he has changed this, and brought in a basic system (perhaps under the watchful eye of first team boss Julen Lopetegui) that allows the players to play to their strengths. Full backs are more attack-minded now and often have the responsibility to pick the ball up and make the transition from defence or stable possession into attack. The midfield is better structured with the attacking midfielder often being Álvaro Fidalgo, a more all-rounded player who has provided a strong link from midfield to attack, and is always there to support the forwards. Of course having Vinícius Júnior in the front three helps a lot, but away from him Castilla have three other quality wingers to choose from to help out two quality strikers.

He has also visibly worked on his coaching knowledge which is good to see. During games you can see him leave his seat to provide vocal instruction to the players, and there have been many times where his messages can be easily interpreted and I have found myself agreeing with the premise. He still sticks up for his players, but in a more supportive and constructive way, rather than just going on a rampage and getting suspended. His training sessions will have improved as well and the players’ motivation potentially shows it. On the whole, he has come a very long way over the summer. It seems like Santiago Solari has finally gained the minimum credentials and skillset required to apply for his current job.

Far better than having a tantrum.

There are some very fresh rumours flying around linking Solari to the first team job if Lopetegui were to be sacked. Despite his advancements, this would be an absolute catastrophe. We are talking about a manager that has shown such levels of incompetence over his managerial career so far, that he has become beyond a joke. A manager that has seen less than ten satisfactory performances during his entire spell at Castilla, and that is sitting in the centre of a self-spun web of annihilation that has a list of players caught up in it. Anyone making the Zidane comparison has unfortunately not done enough research, as although Zinedine underachieved with Castilla, he still showed plenty of promise at times. And you always got the feeling that what he lacked in developmental strength he could make up for with strong man management and his stature. Solari has shown the exact opposite and has gone far beyond underachieving. Still, he is a part of the equation that has led to some early success for Castilla this season.

The Quality of Segunda División B

This is the worst standard of a Segunda División B group that I have ever seen and I mean it. On more than one occasion after Castilla have easily bested a team, I’ve been very surprised to find out that said team are situated in and around the playoff areas. The only genuine challenges Castilla have faced so far has come through other B teams and they are always going to be technically stronger. Even larger clubs such as Leonesa have been disappointing. The top teams are performing like the teams that would have been fighting for relegation in past seasons. It’s a shame in one sense, because many other Castilla sides would have walked this group, and there has never been a better chance to challenge for the top. This is perfect timing for Castilla, who can take this in their stride and use it alongside everything else that is playing to their advantage. At the moment, they just do not look like losing.

Castilla look to have it pretty easy this season...

The Summer

Now I haven’t done much research on this one, but I feel like I don’t need to. I can safely assume that Real Madrid Castilla have spent more money during the summer than any other third division team ever. €45 million for an unproven and even uncapped player at senior level in teenager Vinícius Júnior is sickening, and that can be combined with fees paid for Jorge De Frutos. If you are one to believe rumours, then adding Brazilian starlet Rodrygo Goes into the mixer in January could make this whole situation even more unthinkable. You could genuinely buy the league with the money spent this summer, and make no mistake, it is a disgrace.

The appointment of ex-Castilla manager Julen Lopetegui as first team boss in the summer could have been a huge factor. Whilst he has struggled for the senior side so far, the Spaniard has played and managed throughout the Real Madrid and Spanish youth teams and is one of the best coaches in the world when it comes to that foundational phase. He will have known about the strong link from Castilla to the first team and how it has benefitted the club since he has experienced it firsthand. He has sat in on a couple of the games this season and is more than likely to have had some positive influence on Santiago Solari and the team. Promoting Sergio Reguilón to the first team alone is enough to turn any of the players’ heads.

Vinícius Júnior

The player himself has had a huge effect on the team so far this season and creates sub-factors within the overall factors on his own. The biggest component of his early impact is certainly the playing aspect. His goals and skills have been vital in picking up some big points during his first few games and he has seen plenty of first team involvement as a reward. It is important we make a couple of things clear, though. Vinícius Júnior is not the best player to have played for Castilla - even in recent seasons. His price-tag and reputation seem to have warranted some sort of untouchable status on social media, but the truth is that he is in the right place and can put some important developmental work in at Castilla. This leads to the next problem. Kiyan Sobhani touched upon this in one of the last podcasts that we recorded, but there is very much a selective portrayal of his performances that has actually mislead a fair few people. The ten second clips that we all love to see continue to blow up on social media, but in reality he has only performed superbly in two of his five Castilla games so far and actually had a further two borderline bad showings. He remains however the team’s best and most important player!

Away from the field, he has brought record viewing figures along with him, putting Castilla in a far better spotlight. The attendance at the ground have also improved. He also personally brings attention to the team with his millions of social media followers. The first team now show his highlights on their own social media with a huge following watching every goal, and the academy page even livestreams RMTV on Twitter to allow more people to tune in on matchday. You really get the sense that he and the rest of the team are very aware of all this new traffic and look to raise their games in respect of it.

It also is very possible that playing next to someone that receives extra attention can help to create some extra space to work with, and it feels like he really raises the confidence of his teammates as well. The addition of Vinícius is a huge factor when looking at the turning point of the team and when he is on the field you can always be confident that Castilla can get a result. His poorer performances can likely be traced back to his lack of involvement with his teammates away from matchdays. If the club want to truly maximise his time with Castilla, then perhaps they should be looking for a way to integrate him with fellow prospects a tad more. Depending on what his current schedule looks like, it could just be as simple as training with Castilla once a week.

The Players

The team looks completely transformed. Whilst the squad is probably stronger than last year’s, it still isn’t anywhere near the best Castilla side of recent times. That being said, every player looks to have stepped up their game, even the once woefully bad Luca Zidane. The defence has always been pretty strong to Solari’s credit, but now the midfield and attackers look just as in tune. With players like Javier Belman, Ayoub Abou and César Gelabert yet to return from injury, and the potential for big additions in January, anticipation is starting to build for big things to come.

There is no doubt there are numerous other factors that have added to Castilla’s radiant form, but these were the prime examples. I still feel it is impossible to predict anything for the season, but as long as Castilla reach the 40 point mark, which guarantees safety, then perhaps we can begin to dream. If the impossible really did happen, and Castilla were to top the group table come the end of the season or make the playoff places, then they would have to prepare to do the impossible all over again in the champion/promotion playoffs. Even though Castilla look unbeatable at the moment, they surely don’t have the personnel to see it through. Please do prove me wrong, though! The team will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to double figures in round ten, but hosting Fuenlabrada in this league is never an easy task. One thing we can all agree on, though, is that the longer this run lasts the better.