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Managing Madrid Roundtable: Post-season thoughts from the crew

The staff answer questions about this nightmare season, and what’s next.

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Real Madrid CF v Real Betis Balompie - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The season from hell is finally over. It was drawn out and torturous. So how did we all endure it? Well — in many different ways. Some found hope amid all the smoke and ash, and others are ready to forget every moment of it. The Managing Madrid staff answered questions about this season. It was a reflection on the heartache, and a look ahead to a busy summer (and beyond).

You’re stuck in an elevator with a time-travelling Real Madrid fan, who fell into a black hole just before Zidane and Ronaldo left. Explain the summer and the ensuing season to them in 150 words or less.

Ed Alvarez: Cristiano, we didn’t miss you a bit. Benzema became the lion we always suspected he was, and he scored your goals — his and Bale’s as well. The season wasn’t good, but that was down to the defence and midfield, who as you know were never at the striker’s (your) level. (I’d rather die than tell Ronaldo we missed him.)

Zizou, you were so right. We were on the brink of disaster and we didn’t know. You couldn’t have chosen a better timing: you left on your terms and predicted the ensuing mess of a season we had to endure. That said, and now that you’re back, do not forget how you felt when you decided to leave: it will help you negotiate with club management. PS Kiyan says Llorente played really well.

Gabe Lezra: The era ended exactly how you probably thought it would. Madrid got caught relying on aging and unmotivated players to make up for the loss of Ronaldo and Zidane and the board’s decision to try to implement a new style with a new coach was stymied before it could take effect — in part because of the board’s reticence to engage in an overheated transfer market.

Jess Houwen: Well. Zidane left, Ronaldo left. We picked up Lopetegui, and then sacked him. Picked up Solari, sacked him. Brought back Zidane. Still aren’t playing like we did the last couple seasons. Rumors are we’re going after a couple decent EPL guys. Should be a fun summer!

Kiyan Sobhani: Real Madrid fell into the black hole as well. Ronaldo and Zidane jumped shipped just before the the event horizon — but Florentino Perez found Zidane floating in space just in time for the season to be over. Welcome back!

Lucas Navarrete: Real Madrid somehow decided it was OK to sell Cristiano Ronaldo without a true replacement while deciding to appoint Julen Lopetegui in the middle of Spain’s chase for the World Cup. Hint: It didn’t end well.

Matt Wiltse: Where to start? Well, Zidane left and then Ronaldo shortly after. Lopetegui became the new Madrid manager and was fired from the Spain job before the World Cup started because of his Madrid commitments. Who would come in to replace Ronaldo? No-one. Bale and Benzema were expected to step up, with further importance given to Asensio and Isco. Bale flopped, Asensio regressed and looked a shadow of his former self, and Isco got injured, never fully recovering his form. JLO gets the sack by October, and Solari steps in. The Argentine promoted youth. Vinicius JR became a sensation, Sergio Reguilon overcame Marcelo for the LB spot, and Valverde would play more than Isco, while Marcos Llorente would start and consistently be MOTM match after match. But the whole season would be lost in one week, and Solari would get the sack. Zidane comes back to save us, but we played for nothing from March – May.

mrs. madridista: What if I told you that immediately after winning our THIRD Champions League in a row, we lost the coach who led us to all three, as well as our all-time top goal scorer within weeks? Then we publicly announced we were hiring a coach who was one day out from starting his dream job as Spain’s coach for the World Cup. Dude gets sacked from that job just to lose his job at Real Madrid a few weeks into the season. Don’t worry, guess who we brought in as our #7? Mariano Diaz, everybody! He played about 15 minutes the entire season and his biggest achievement was a whiff heard ‘round the world and a diving header. We had three coaches, and managed to ostracize the best left back of our generation. We then lost in the Champions League Round-of-16 for the first time in ten years. Sweet.

Om Arvind: You know all of Om Arvind’s predictions? Yeah, the opposite of that.

Sam Sharpe: Santiago Solari will be manager of Real Madrid next season. You’re better off in the black hole.

What was your favourite part of this season?

Ed Alvarez: The handful of young players who enjoyed quality playing time in top scenarios: Reguilon, Llorente, Valverde, etc. They did very well with the minutes they were given, and they showed up in very tough matches. It’s Solari biggest -- probably only? -- legacy. Let’s hope Zidane makes the right decisions with them.

Gabe Lezra: Vinicius and Marcos Llorente showing up and validating the hype we’ve heaped on them.

Jess Houwen: Watching Vinicius Jr. develop. There’s a lot of good skill already there and a lot more to be tapped into.

Kiyan Sobhani: There was a one-week stretch this season in February — the Copa del Rey draw in Camp Nou followed up by a 1 - 3 win at the Wanda — that I really enjoyed. I wouldn’t say I looked at it as a season-turning week, but it was one of those stretches that made you appreciate the possibilities of a new cycle with Sergio Reguilon and Vinicius Jr both playing so well in two big away games. I especially enjoyed their fire — butting heads with opposing bullies like Pique, Suarez, Godin, and Gimenez. Naturally, we followed that up with one of the worst week in club history — but hey, in the moment of those two games, it was pretty cool.

Marcos Llorente vindicating hype was also great. I’ll follow his progress wherever he goes.

Lucas Navarrete: Benzema proving EVERY. SINGLE. FAN wrong by leading this team in scoring.

Matt Wiltse: It’s sad, but probably the feeling pre-European Super Cup vs Atletico. Lopetegui had stepped in and we were playing pretty well in pre-season. There were some new tactical tweaks and opportunities for different personnel. Yes, Ronaldo was gone, but we were going to see more of Asensio and Isco. Bale was going to be released from his shackles. Ceballos was getting more minutes and a young Sergio Reguilon was superb in all the preseason matches. There was an excitement — what would the post-Ronaldo era look like? Were there still some surprise signings on the way? A system was going to be put in place that focused on the team rather than the individual. Sadly, that ilusión faded quickly and reality set-in. As feared, Ronaldo’s goals did need to be replaced and some more fresh faces were required to jolt some renewed energy into the team.

mrs. madridista: Solari getting sacked. Barcelona getting knocked out of the CL in the semi-finals. The season ending.

Om Arvind: The part where it ended.

Sam Sharpe: Castilla’s play-off run. One of the very few positive’s to take away from the 2018/19 Real Madrid season. If that isn’t your immediate answer then what are you doing?

How did you feel upon Zidane’s return?

Ed Alvarez: Shock and happiness. Confused. Ecstatic. Relieved.

Gabe Lezra: Weirdly conflicted to the point of being upset. I thought he should have gone on to coach the French World Cup team and that Madrid needed a full reset with a tactical coach who would be unafraid to implement a modern style and hold players accountable —namely, Pochettino. That said... the other options being bandied about were so incredibly bad I couldn’t be too upset.

Jess Houwen: I felt hesitantly optimistic. I’ve thought that Zidane was the bigger loss of last season. The performances haven’t been there so far, but I feel like he’s having to get the guys to unlearn things from Lopetegui and Solari’s stints.

Kiyan Sobhani: He wasn’t my first choice — I would’ve waited out the season to see what the full list of options were, and I imagine Zidane would’ve been available at that time if needed. Despite that feeling — Zidane is Madrid. And when I watched his press conference upon his return, I was like “I’m in. Let’s do this.” He has that presence about him. Am I skeptical about his player selection? Sure. But I’m ready to grade this return much further down the road, and not yet.

Lucas Navarrete: Not very excited? I absolutely respect Zidane’s trajectory and legacy in Real Madrid but never thought his teams were very stimulating, which is mainly what I wanted from Lopetegui and Solari’s replacement. Furthermore, I always feared that Zidane will ultimately feel way too attached to the players who won the treble. We’ll have to see if that actually happens this summer...

Matt Wiltse: Let me preface by saying I am a huge fan of Zinedine Zidane. Though, at first, I was not in favor of the rumors suggesting Zidane could return. I was adamant that Mourinho was not the right man, but I didn’t feel returning to Zidane was the answer either. But, after that first press conference, with Zidane’s aura and that calm, cool demeanor – I was sold. It’s a totally different challenge now to his first time in charge, but Zidane knows this club and knows how to get the best from his players, I am 100% behind the Frenchman through thick and thin. As I wrote about in a previous article, it is now time for blind-faith and full support in ZZ’s project.

mrs. madridista: Elated and hopeful for the future season(s).

Om Arvind: More “meh” than it probably should’ve been. The direction of our transfer policy and Zidane’s departing words told me that we needed a coach that could grow our younger guys, solidify our transition defense, and maximize the hell out of our talent. Mauricio Pochettino was the best option on the market for guiding us through this transition era and hindsight tells us that he probably would’ve been available at the end of this season. The whole decision to bring back Zidane felt very rushed - almost reactionary. That, on top of the Lopetegui and Solari hires, tells me that Florentino Pérez continues to be very confused about his manager selection strategy. We were seriously considering Jose Mourinho for christ’s sake. At the end of the day, though, this is Zidane we’re talking about. He’s proven himself unlike any other manager before him and it’s a given that the players will die for him. This is not at all like Manchester United’s situation, where they bound themselves to a mediocre old hand because they didn’t know what expected goals were.

Sam Sharpe: Satisfied, and discreetly optimistic - despite knowing full well that it would mean the return of the tiresome ‘family free pass’.

How will you mourn Marcos Llorente’s departure?

Ed Alvarez: Not as much as Kiyan, but a lot. His departure only makes sense if he plays over 40 matches next season under a coach who knows how to get the best of a midfielder. That gets us really close to Simeone’s territory, unfortunately.

*Editor’s note: That’s reasonable. But I guess you’d be more gutted if he was a 30 year old without a hipster haircut.

Gabe Lezra: I refuse to accept that this will happen and when it does I will be crushed.

*Editor’s note: You get a raise.

Jess Houwen: I’m sorry, Kiyan. I don’t think I’m going to mourn him at all. He hasn’t been one of my favorites.

*Editor’s note: You’re fired.

Kiyan Sobhani:

Lucas Navarrete: It’s clearly a product of Zidane’s return, just like Ceballos almost surely leaving the club. I just think we all have to accept that Llorente and Zidane are not on the same page, given that the midfielder clearly earned a shot to stay in the team when he got to play this season. It’s a shame but I will be OK with it if Real Madrid sign quality players capable of competing for a starting spot in the midfield, given that I believe that the Casemiro - Kroos - Modric trio is no longer competitive.

*Editor’s note:

Matt Wiltse: For me, it’s more frustrating than sad. Marcos proved he belonged and proved he could be a starter for Real Madrid. This season, Casemiro has not warranted the unrelenting faith that Zidane has granted him. Of all the rumours, Casemiro is never mentioned as one to leave or be displaced. I have a soft spot for players from the Cantera and when you have a talent like Marcos Llorente, who can fill a void on your team, it’s frustrating to see him pushed out.

*Editor’s note: Too real.

mrs. madridista: I would prefer he stay because I liked what I saw from him in his limited minutes this season during Casemiro’s injury. But I don’t think we will miss him and we can only have so many players in this highly competitive squad.

*Editor’s note: more like mrs. cule.

Om Arvind: By tweeting something snarky.

*Editor’s note: my blood.

Sam Sharpe: I’ll reminisce about a midfield trio of Llorente-Febas-Ødegaard, and how I was fortunate enough to witness greatness at a pristine stage. And I’ll probably revisit a few of his pug videos.

*Editor’s note: That’s why you’re the #1 British writer for this site.

Biggest thing Zidane needs to address this off-season?

Ed Alvarez: A striker -- Jovic? -- and the famous intensity. He needs to awaken this group’s competitiveness or else we’ll all suffer.

Gabe Lezra: Convince Kylian Mbappe to throw a complete fit at PSG, accuse the Qatari government of using slave labour to build their stadiums so that they decide that their investment in the club isn’t helping their image, and begin a hunger strike to force a move to Real Madrid.

Jess Houwen: We need a stronger front line — whether that’s bringing in new signings, working with our existing players, or both. Unfortunately, he also needs to start looking at Ramos and Marcelo because we don’t have many more seasons with them — maybe one or two?

Kiyan Sobhani: Signing Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic (while already securing Eder Militao) is a good start. Hazard solves the inconsistency in chance-curation and line-breaking dribbling outside of Vinicius; Jovic fills the lack of a clinical striker; and Militao gives much needed (reliable) depth after Ramos and Varane. I’d also look at Ndombele to give us a box-to-box presence who can get dirty defensively in the post-peak-Modric era. Lets’ say you get those four players — you really have no excuse to not compete at an elite level. Zidane needs to then figure out a scheme that doesn’t have so many tactical holes — one that’s less predictable offensively and glues the transition defense tighter.

Another thing: Detach yourself from the past success of the great legends that reside in the team. You can’t resuscitate all of them.

Lucas Navarrete: He must be fearless and forget what most of these players accomplished. He has to move on and accept that this club needs big changes. That’s the key.

Matt Wiltse: Same thing as last season – replacing Cristiano’s goal production. We need some more goal-scoring midfielders coupled with the expected arrival of Hazard and Jovic, and you can start to close that gap.

mrs. madridista: Continuing to demand that he get more say in transfers and squad re-building. Have a talk with Marcelo to see what he needs to get back to his best self. Figure out how to fill the void that Ronaldo left, if that is even possible.

Om Arvind: Transition defense - which relates to the structure of your build-up, which relates to your personnel selection and formation... So, a lot of things that I affectionately term “tactics.”

Sam Sharpe: It’s a long list. I would like to see him or the club show some genuine interest in some of the biggest products to come out of the club. I’m unsure that Zidane even knows Martin Ødegaard’s name. Martin is now at the level where he can either find a place in next seasons squad, or could use a final loan to force himself into Real Madrid’s line-up. A carefully planned out strategy for multiple young players should be the very least that gets accomplished.

What are you most excited for moving forward?

Ed Alvarez: Zidane’s comeback made me really happy. I can’t see any other event in the future that would excite me as much, even if we end up signing Mbappe.

Gabe Lezra: Renewal is always exciting, and I’m psyched to see what the next version of the club I love will look like. Plus, the new kit is ABSOLUTE FIRE.

Jess Houwen: Most excited for moving forward: We have some amazing young talent on the first team and they are fun to watch. I’m excited to see them develop and grow further. I’m also hoping that they take this season as a learning opportunity and use it as fuel to fire their performances next year. (It feels weird to be disappointed about a team finishing third, but that might be because my MLS team is dead last with no sign of upward movement.)

Kiyan Sobhani: The unknown always excites me. Given that Hazard and Jovic are so close to signing tickles my feathers a little bit. I’ve watched most of Hazard’s matches this season and have been blown away by how good he is. He carried a defanged offensive team and put it on his back — breaking lines over and over again on his own. Jovic is someone I’ve really grown fond of too. What he’s done at the age of 21 is really impressive, and he has a knack for chilling his blood and slowing down time in front of goal.

I don’t need convincing that Zidane is able to get this team to the promised land — it’s already proven, even if the process hasn’t always been that impressive to me. (But hey, don’t mind me on this. I just enjoy tactical scrutiny. I also enjoy winning.) If you get a rejuvenated squad for Zidane to work with, it’s more exciting than not.

MM Swag

Lucas Navarrete: Vinicius, by quite a lot. It will also be interesting to see the signings making their debut after so many seasons watching this core of players.

Matt Wiltse: I am ready for some fresh-faces. The line-up, bar maybe one or two spots, has picked itself over the last 3-4 years. I am excited to see how we integrate the new talent and what system we use.

mrs. madridista: Honestly just putting this horrible, embarrassing season behind us and beginning to build for the future. We’ve been through re-builds before and they are painful, but it’s a part of the game.

Om Arvind: Casemiro playing in the #10 position again.

Sam Sharpe: It’s probably best for me to revisit this question until after Castilla’s play-off campaign. For the first team though, I’m avidly awaiting a Christmas-esque summer of sizeable transfers.

Give us your boldest prediction for next season.

Eduardo Alvarez: We win LaLiga with a hard-working, talented side by taking advantage of the internal fights in Barcelona’s dressing room. We made the CL final in which we meet with ManCity. I wouldn’t dare to give a prediction for that.

Gabe Lezra: Manchester City is banned from the Champions League and the ensuing court case leads to the ultimate destruction of UEFA as an institution.

Oh, for Real Madrid? They win the league with Neymar scoring for Madrid to beat Barcelona in the deciding fixture.

Jess Houwen: Treble.

Kiyan Sobhani:

Lucas Navarrette: Asensio finally becomes an undisputed starter and scores 15+ goals, actually competing with Hazard and Vinicius for a spot in either flank.

Matt Wiltse: Fede Valverde becomes a starter by the end of the 2019-2020 season.

mrs. madridista: El Clasico Champions League final. You heard it here first.

Om Arvind: Every time I say we’ll lose, we win, and every time I say we’ll win, we lose. So my boldest prediction is that we’ll not win things. Thank me one year from now.

Sam Sharpe: Real Madrid will genuinely challenge for the league title. If not then Real Madrid will go full circle and work their way through another three managers again.

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