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Managing Madrid Mailbag: Lopetegui’s Tactics, And More

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Kiyan’s latest written mailbag, addressing questions from fans about tactics, among other things.

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

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 thing. All previous editions can be found here.


As always, this was fun. For future submissions, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or join our Patreon army for guaranteed responses. Love you all. Let’s go:

At this stage of the transfer window, after losing Mateo Kovacic, I wouldn’t say Real Madrid has too many ball playing midfielders. But assuming you meant within the line-up, rather than in the squad overall, I still think there is a good balance based on what Loeptegui wants to do. Juego de Posicion relies on brainiacs that can play that role. Lopetegui wants to:

  1. Have defined roles in every vertical and horizontal space on the pitch, meaning if one ball-carrier has the ball on one flank or half-space, every other player on the pitch has to cover another zone; and multiple ball-carriers in multiple zones guarantee (to a great extent) control over the game.
  2. Switch the play constantly to keep defensive lines shifting and collapsing. These ball dominant midfielders will be asked to play quicker while ensuring the ball is held safe. Kroos, Isco, Modric, and Ceballos can keep possession, but they’ll also be asked to switch the ball while creating as many passing lanes as possible. Possession will be recycled over and over again until the right outlet is found.
  3. Use these defined roles and pitch coverage to mask having to defend in transition by already being in position to stifle attacks; while simultaneously racking up an unheard amount of possession so players can rest on the ball and limit opposing attacks.
  4. Be in position to counter-press and retain possession when it’s lost. Once it’s retained, you need technical players to make the right decision to ignite a quick attack, or salvage possession.
  5. Use his midfielders to provide proper outlets when wingers cut inside to the half-space.

In a scheme that asks so much of its midfielders (and everyone, really), it makes sense to emphasize having this position stockpiled. With regard to strength, I don’t see any issues. 1) Give me talent over strength any day; 2) Height is not correlated with strength (I know this because peak Kiyan, aged 21, was throwing around adult men on the pitch and I’m only 5”7’); and 3) Who exactly is bullying Modric and Isco off the ball anyway?

The question about goals is interesting. The idea of not having Gareth Bale around for an important stretch of football is terrifying when Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer here. On the flipside, you could argue Real Madrid may require less goals if they’re going to keep 70% of the ball and be a better defensive team. Maybe in those situations, you just turn into a more entertaining version of Atletico — churning out 1-0 and 2-0s.

Uh, he wasn’t there, Kristofer. He was sold to Juventus FC in the summer of 2018. Do you not check ManagingMadrid.com? We have sources.

Canadian born. Never been to Iran — but that’s where my parents are from. On a side note: why does everyone want to know if I’m Indian, or, alternatively, why does everyone from India want to know where I’m from (not saying that’s you, Shayan). This is a thing, right? People from India absolutely have to know where someone is from? This doesn’t only exist in my head? This is like a thing exclusive to India.

(Love India, btw. My wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed our experience travelling that country.)

In case you want to know more about what it’s like growing up in Canada with Persian parents:

Some of this is harsh. Dubbing Lopetegui as the culprit for Spain’s fall fails to take into account every angle of the situation — one, when analyzed, essentially should point to Rubiales as the fall guy. The only thing Lopetegui could control during this entire fiasco was not accepting Real Madrid’s job offer because he already had a job. It’s easy to say he should’ve told Florentino “no”; but what are we really asking him to do here? What happens if your phone rings before the World Cup and you get a once-in-a-lifetime job offer to coach Real Madrid? How do you say no to that? What guarantee do you have that job will still be on the table after the World Cup and that Real Madrid haven’t found another manager? What if the World Cup is a disaster and the offer collapses because of it? You have to take it. And if you don’t, chances are you would, if you were in his shoes.

Rubiales put his pride and emotion in front of Spain’s World Cup hopes. It’s on him.

I, like you, have no idea if Lopetegui will deal with the pressure or not — but maybe he will. We’ve had good success with coaches who connect well with the players — a prerequisite for even the sharpest tactical mind — and from what we know and have seen, the players are buying in to his tactical philosophy. The questions about his beliefs on the pitch were somewhat addressed in the first question, so I won’t rehash it here, but I want to point out his versatility as a tactician. There was a question on Wednesday’s podcast from a Patron which essentially asked if Lopetegui could make this look as cohesive as it has been if Ronaldo was still here. The answer is yes — he’d make it work. It’s crazy to think we wouldn’t be better with Ronaldo (unless we experience the most dramatic example of the Ewing Theory that we’ve ever experienced in sports history this season). Put it this way: Lopetegui rolled out six different schemes during World Cup qualifying as he steamrolled opponents. All six schemes were slightly different (false nine, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, etc), but held the same principle of positional play and creating overloads in the final third. I think Ronaldo would love playing in this blueprint, theoretically.

Yeah, all this is correct. If Zidane was about just outscoring teams Golden State Warriors style (or maybe Cavs style, since they didn’t play any defense while LeBron saved his energy for the offensive end), Lopetegui will have to focus on zipping up defensive transition and controlling the game — relying more on a collective nervous system rather than getting bailed out by luck, individual aliens pulling stunts out of Asgard, or Modric playing as a right back and pumping IV into the team. (I wrote about these systemic issues that we got bailed out on here.) Unless Real Madrid can pick up someone reliable to play significant minutes off the bench or as a rotational piece, it is terrifying that we’d go into a Champions League knockout tie, 15 minutes from being knocked out and down a goal, and our only goalscorer off the bench is Borja Mayoral. That problem won’t go away until the club sign someone.

Just for fun:

All points noted and all points valid. Hopefully, defensively, Real Madrid will be vastly different from what they were in the Super Cup (Varane clearly had a World Cup hangover), but the thinness at the CB position is an under-talked about subject. It’s actually desperate enough that Matt Wiltse and I were discussing bringing Mario Hermoso back on this week’s loan tracker podcast. To be fair to Mario, as a fifth choice center back he’d be a pretty nice fit. He can score, and has pleasantly surprised at the La Liga level. You’d need someone good enough to fill in sporadically, but not good enough to demand any more minutes than that. Tricky slot to fill, unless you can push Nacho out-wide to back-up Marcelo (or any position in the universe, really) permanently.

It’s impossible, Shafiq. We’re spread thins as it is, and none of us are commentators. Commentating takes a serious art (and certain level of experience) to tackle properly, and even then, only a handful of trained professionals are truly elite at it. Shoutout to Stu Holden and John Helm. Something to keep in mind here: we have to focus on covering a match and analyzing it to its core. If you look at my notebook during a game you’ll find it hard to find any blank space. It’s a job that comes with a lot of detail, and commentating on top of that meticulous analytical work, would take us away from our focus — giving you analysis that you won’t get anywhere else on earth.

However! We live tweet during every match (it’s usually either myself, Om, or Lucas — and soon to be added Sam Sharpe who will be managing our social media), and I record a live half-time show for every match (unless I’m at the Bernabeu, where the wi fi is unreliable) on our Facebook page.

On a side note, I’m really proud of where this site is headed. We’re taking a huge leap this season, and have brought on great writers full-time. Our Castilla coverage will be second to none, our coverage of the players on loan will be unrivalled, and we’re now up to three-to-five podcasts per week. By the way, did you know we now even have an Instagram profile? I’m all in. We’re all in.

(Also, if you’re not a Patron yet, you’re missing out on a ton of great bonus content. Sign up here.)

WhoScored has its flaws (in some cases through no fault of their own), but this comment leads to a different subject — Bale’s crossing has been underrated for years. Few can A) Get themselves into space with a touch to maneuver into a great crossing position from either flank; B) Cross with the accuracy and weight that makes it easier for strikers to pounce on; and C) Sling that outrageous outside-of-the-boot cross from the right the way Bale can.

I stopped playing last summer, when my son Luka was born. At that point I just wanted to focus on writing and family. My favourite position to play — the one where I played my whole life — was as a left winger. I like cutting in but most of all just tucking outside to dribble past a man and cross it in — but I’d hug the goal-line and place a low, square pass to the far post for an onrushing striker (I played with a lot of talented strikers who led the league in scoring that probably made me look better than I was). In the winter time, when we’d transition to indoor and seven-a-side, I’d play as defensive midfielder because I loved seeing everything and organizing the team. My nature in-game was to constantly talk and ask players to shift to different areas. I hate being a silent passenger, so playing as DM was really fun for me because I actually enjoyed staying back and distributing / organizing things.

Stylistically, I was a Laudrup disciple.

I had the chance to watch a lot of Reguilón last season with Castilla and I can vouch for him — he was one of Castilla’s best players last season. His emergence was so good that Luismi Quezada (one of my favourite Castilla players from the past few years) was transitioned into a full-time left-winger which worked well for everyone.

You’re right Vahakn — we can’t really take anything away from preseason. We really don’t know how his game will translate to top flight football in the future. I’m sure he makes it somewhere. It’s funny because there were higher performers than him in the past who didn’t amount to much, and others weren’t as good who are now playing regularly in La Liga by making a leap to the right situation at the right time.

I like him. We’ll see.

Plenty. The two most harrowing, in order, for me:

  1. The penalty shootout against Bayern in 2012. Too real. Too difficult to cope with. That was OUR year. We had a weakened Chelsea side waiting for us in the final that I was convinced we’d beat. Looking back now, no sight makes my blood boil more than seeing Higuain not hold his offside run at the end of regulation. He could’ve prevented the stomach-churning penalty shootout had he been in line:

2. Figo’s penalty miss in Turin in 2003. I slept zero hours that night. That was our best team from the entire galactico reign and we came away as Champions League semi-finalists. It’s a shame. Figo stepped up and uncharacteristically hit a tame penalty into Buffon’s arms. Nedved buried my heart with Juventus’ third goal shortly after.

Sell everyone who plays for the team and buy everyone who doesn’t play for the team.