Needless to say, it has been a tough season for Madridistas and the match against Sociedad culminated all the frustration. Yes, the team had opportunities, but in the end it simply was not good enough. The caliber of player is so much higher than the quality exhibited on the pitch. Real Madrid have failed to turn the score around from a losing position at all this season, something that was done time and time again last season. It was the formula behind the Champions League success. Bayern scored a goal against? Oh well, we will go score 2 or 3. PSG goes ahead in the Bernabeu? No problem, we will score a couple late goals. Everyone can point to an issue, and the truth is there are a whole host of issues that have led to some of the serious systemic problems.
One issue, maybe not the most important but certainly worth addressing, an issue that has been largely masked by Cristiano Ronaldo and the Champions League success of recent years, is the aging core. Luka Modric is 33 years old, Sergio Ramos will be 33 in March, Karim Benzema is 31, and Marcelo will be 31 later this year. These four players are amongst the players with the most minutes on the team. Famed Manchester Unite manager, Alex Ferguson, was a master at knowing when to restructure his squad and re-inject the team with fresh faces. He would phase out the old and bring in the new. The key term being phase out, not sell. Phasing out means you gradually reduce the role of your senior players. It does not mean selling everyone in your starting eleven the second they hit the big 3-0. For Ferguson, it meant guys like Giggs were only playing 30 games a year instead of 60-65. The Welshman was often reserved for the big Champions League nights. The same was done for the likes of Scholes and Carrick. You wrap your ageing legends in cotton wool, stripping out their final years of talent wisely.
We saw the dividends of that same plan with Cristiano Ronaldo in the previous two seasons—a player who looked after himself better than any other. It is more than likely our current crop of 30+ stars are looking after themselves with a great deal of professionalism, but it is equally as likely they do not mirror the extremes of Ronaldo. Thus, why should one expect them to play week in and week out, churning out 60 games a season at the top level, especially after a World Cup year? Their role needs to be reduced, not increased like it has this season. Ideally, it would be a gradual phase out.
Again, it should be reiterated— this does not mean we sell every player over 30 or that there are a multitude of options out there in the market or even in the squad that are better than them. There isn’t. And the market this summer was void of top level players—you can barely count on your hand those that were available and could make an impact. Sure, some stronger rotational attacking pieces could have been brought in, but overpaying for those players when you have confidence in the likes of Asensio, Isco, Mariano, and even Vinicius meant it could have been money saved. Few could have foreseen the dramatic drop-off that would have occurred this season. Maybe a season like this had to happen for important changes and transitions to be made.
Overall, the numbers seem to show that we are in fact regressing under Solari. The eye test is now looking about the same as it was under Lopetegui, not much has improved. There is no fluidity in attack, its all stagnant. Its frustrating.
I calculated the avg xG created and conceded by #RealMadrid in La Liga over 10 games, and then plotted the evolution of that 10-game average over the 2018 calendar year.@StatsBomb uses this kind of plot all the time, they did one on RM a few months ago. https://t.co/x5YOzguaiD pic.twitter.com/XOd6PzUto6— José C. Pérez (@jcperez_) January 6, 2019
Yes, we can make changes in the summer, and Madrid can hopefully bring in a manager like Pochettino and so on—but what about right now? What can we change for the next game? With Solari still in charge, what can we realistically change for immediate impact or a quick jolt of life? No fan wants to bear another five months of awful results and terrible football. The manager, Solari, has to sit the non-performers and sprinkle in the youngsters who have made an impact and have played well this season. Give Marcelo a rest, play Reguilon—the kid deserves it. Keep sprinkling in Viniciuis, he gives Madrid dynamism and pace, and just that ability to unbalance defenses and take a defender on—something we have so desperately lacked. Let Dani Ceballos get an extended run, he has been great this season, while Luka Modric has been mediocre. It’s not about replacing every player in the eleven with a young player, but it is about giving opportunities to guys who have performed while sitting those who have not. The leash has been too long. As a player, knowing you can make countless mistakes and play terrible for weeks on end, but have no repercussions for it, is not going to motivate you. If you are thrown on the bench for a couple matches and have your counterpart excel, now breathing down your neck for a spot—it puts a chip on your shoulder. Competition is healthy. As a player, if you don’t make that extra 40 yard sprint, knowing you’ll be benched the next game for someone that will, that impacts you mentally—you’re going to go the extra mile. There is too much complacency in the current side. Sprinkling in the youngsters who deserve more and gradually reducing the role of the older generation may give that jolt of life. These are things Solari can do right now, given we likely won’t see him put together a proven tactical system by Wednesday.