There was so much football left to be played, leaving us with a lot of ‘what ifs’. The crew reflects on what could’ve been — and what may still yet be.
Had things just progressed naturally, and COVID-19 never existed, what would we have seen happen against Manchester City in the 2nd leg?
Matt Wiltse: I believe Real Madrid would have put in an inspired performance, one fans would be proud of, but ultimately fall short of overturning the tie. If you look at all of the underlying stats – Manchester City have been phenomenal this season. Their xPTS places them above Liverpool by 3 points. Both their xG and xGA are superior to Liverpool as well and all of the Premier League. This tie very well could have been a semi-final matchup had Real Madrid continued their good form from the end of 2019 and had Hazard managed to stay fit.
Kristofer McCormack: I can see City knocking Madrid out. Regardless of the performance in the second leg, knocking premier sides out of the Champions League after said side have won the first leg is hard. Studies have found that strong teams (in terms of depth, financial power and coefficient ranking) who play their second leg at home generally progress in the Champions League knock-out ties. Granted, Real Madrid have among the best recent away records in the tournament’s recent history, however, this is a very different team to the the side that achieved that record, I can’t say that Madrid’s away record against the big teams in 2019/20 screamed remontada like the three-peat team did.
Euan McTear: Had things just progressed naturally, and COVID-19 never existed, what would we have seen happen against Manchester City in the 2nd leg?I think we’d probably have seen Manchester City progress. You can never rule Real Madrid out on a European night, but it’s never easy to overturn a first leg loss, especially away from home and without a player as influential as Sergio Ramos, who would have been suspended. We saw how big a blow his absence was against Ajax last year and it would surely have been a similar story again.
Sam Sharpe: For a start the Castilla corner gang would have been on the scene having a great time. On the pitch however I didn’t see much opportunity for a turnaround, and think that by whatever slim margine - Real Madrid would have exited the competition that night.
Om Arvind: I think we would’ve gotten knocked out.
Lucas Navarrete: I think Real Madrid had a decent chance to comeback but ultimately the 1-2 defeat at the Bernabeu is just very tough to overcome, so I have to be realistic and quite possibly Zidane’s men would’ve been knocked out. We also need to consider that Madrid were not in good form before the postponement of the competition.
Jess Houwen: I think we would have seen a hard fought victory. It would’ve been a close one, but we would’ve done it.
Kiyan Sobhani: I will never bet against Real Madrid in the Champions League. The more this club is pinned against a wall, the more it thrives. Manchester City are vulnerable defensively, even with Laporte around. They clicked into gear in the second half at the Bernabeu, but their conservative approach hurt them in the first half. There’s reason to believe Pep will try to contract his team’s scheme in a shell in the second leg — something he’s done over and over in the Champions League which has led to his teams’ downfall. I’m not guaranteeing a victory, but it’s not that bold to assume Zidane — who has yet to be knocked out of this tournament — can get his team to conjure one away goal, which in turn makes the second a bit easier from a psychological standpoint. Once you hit two away goals, you’re starting to take control.
We know now that if the second leg ever does take place, it will be with Eden Hazard back. I’d lean towards Real Madrid ever so slightly, despite the odds stacked against them.
Rob Husby: Had the season not been abruptly postponed by Coronavirus, I think Real Madrid would’ve been eliminated by Manchester City because it would’ve taken a big comeback. Real of course have done that before and anything is possible in football, but the odds were against them traveling away to the Etihad.
How would the league have played out?
Kristofer McCormack: This is a different matter. On paper, Real Madrid had the harder schedule than Barcelona, however, Barcelona have been absolutely horrific away from home, were set to play more games away from home than Madrid and were playing teams they had a history of slipping up to (e.g Celta Vigo away). Real Madrid had the upper hand on head to head as well so, as strange as it sounds, I could have seen us winning the league narrowly especially if my Champions League prediction came through as well.
Euan McTear: I do think Real Madrid would have won the league this year. They may currently be in second place behind Barcelona, but their play this season has overall been more convincing in my opinion. I also think Real Madrid had an easier schedule to close out the season, so I think they would have edged Barcelona to win the title.
Sam Sharpe: The league however is a different story, as the top two teams appear to really want each other to win it. It would come down to who could drop the least amount of points in games where they shouldn’t. Real Madrid would have a very good shot at the title, but boy do we know how they can throw ‘surprise’ fixtures.
Om Arvind: The league would’ve gone down to the final day between Barcelona and Real Madrid. That’s as far as I’m willing to go in my prediction.
Lucas Navarrete: I could see Madrid regaining some confidence and momentum in La Liga and their schedule wasn’t all that bad, so I think they could compete for the title until the very, very last game.
Jess Houwen: As for the league, I think it would’ve been a back and forth between us and Barcelona the whole time. In the end, I think we could’ve taken it.
Kiyan Sobhani: Letting this league slip, against this version of Barcelona, would be inexcusable. But I wouldn’t put it past Real Madrid to lose focus and lose points for the rest of the campaign. I have no hunch either way. Barcelona will drop points again — but Real Madrid has been its own worst enemy in the league for (*checks the internet*)... years.
Rob Husby: The league, however, would’ve been different. Real were only two points behind Barcelona in LaLiga. Anything could’ve happened and I do believe Real were playing well enough to win the league title this season.
What is your favourite jersey in Real Madrid history, and why?
Matt Wiltse: Oof – this is tough. I am going to pick two different kits. From a purely aesthetic stand-point I am going with the centenary kit briefly featured in the 2002-2003 season. An all-white classic kit. I would love to see Adidas produce another purely white kit:
Another favourite, for the sentiment it holds and the look, is the 2016/2017 purple kit featured in the Champions League final vs Juventus. Purple is always a good look for Real Madrid and that final was the most enjoyable (in terms of on-field play) of the four most recent Champions League triumphs:
Kristofer McCormack: There are some clear contenders for me. I think in terms of memories it would be the 2016/17 jersey simply because it was the best season I’ve seen as a Madrid fan. In terms of aesthetics, the 2014/15 third kit takes it by a mile and anyone who can say no to a dragon on a football kit needs to reconsider their lives.
Euan McTear: The 2002 shirt, the one from the Hampden Park Champions League final. The white usually looks pristine, but even more so in that season with the lack of a sponsor on the chest.
Sam Sharpe: The gold trimmed 2011/2012 home jersey. I am addicted to gold, and the whole set that year was glorious. I still own an awful lot of it. Perhaps the biggest difference between this season’s gold trim attempt and that season’s, was that the majoirty of the performances on the pitch that year were golden as well, for both the first team and Castilla.
Om Arvind: 2011/12 home jersey: gold and white; 100 league points; peak Mourinho. Need I say more?
Lucas Navarrete: 17-18 away jersey, the purple one. As I’ve said on a number of podcasts, purple is an underrated color in Real Madrid history and one I feel the club should consider more often. It was also the jersey Real Madrid wore for their 12th title, the great Final against Juventus.
Jess Houwen: Honestly, I think my favourite jersey has to be this season’s away jersey. I really think the navy with the gold looks really sharp.
Kiyan Sobhani: Nostalgia trumps actual design. That’s science. Baggy kits; a Redondo taconazo; a demolition in Paris; a beautiful start to the millennium:
Rob Husby: My favorite jersey Real has worn in my time being a fan is the 2011-12 home kit. It was absolutely gorgeous. Gold and white like this seasons home and I’m a sucker for collared shirts. It also reminds me of some of the best counter attacking football under Jose Mourinho. It reminds me of Ronaldo, Özil, and even Kaka. And of course they won the league title while wearing these shirts.
If football does resume in the summer, how much do you expect to see of Marco Asensio, and what do you expect of him?
Matt Wiltse: I don’t think we can expect much from Marco Asensio this summer nor for the 12 months following his injury. Very few players come back from an injury like that and are able to train and play at a high level consistently for 12 months without sustaining other injuries or having pain. It will be a full year after he recovers before we can truly evaluate whether or not Marco Asensio can get back to his best and fulfill his potential. Fans are going to have to be patient.
Kristofer McCormack: Not much. ACLs are hard to recover from and even if you do make a full recovery, so many players of Asensio’s ilk have never been able to fully recapture their form. You add into the mix that Asensio has largely struggled for consistency since 2016/17 (and often plays out of position under Zidane), then a slow return to form seems likely for Asensio.
Euan McTear: I had been saying for a few months that I believed Asensio would be given a few outings towards the end of the season to try to force his way into the Euro 2020 squad. Now, I really believe we’ll see some Asensio when football comes back. And I think he’ll be quite good. Asensio has always been at his best when the pressure and expectations are off and that would be the case when he comes back.
Sam Sharpe: A lot more that’s for sure. If he is to progress and become on of the team’s most consistently important players, the window he has to jump through to get there is rapidly shrinking. But it is still very much intact and a realistic jump. Of course after such an injury there will be a period of time spend finding his feet again, but expect him to recieve a lot of responsibility not long after his return.
Om Arvind: I would hope that he comes back very gradually, vying for a spot on the right wing. I wouldn’t expect much from him in the early days and I think a lot of patience is needed as he tries to regain his form following a very serious injury.
Lucas Navarrete: I expect he will be a key player for Real Madrid. He will have the opportunity to complete the team’s mini pre-season stage with his teammates and while he will need confidence to play at the highest level, he will also have many games in front of him when Zidane can give him minutes.
Jess Houwen: As much as Asensio is one of my favourites, I think our current line-up is going to be a tough one for him to break into. I think we see him going back to being a super sub for the remainder of the season. He will have a lot of work to do to prove why he should be given a starting position again.
Kiyan Sobhani: I’m glad this question is being asked now, and not 30 years ago. The rate of recovery returning from his type of injury has increased dramatically over the years. (Zlatan’s recent recovery post-Manchester United is a good example, even if he is an exceptionally freak athlete,) I expect Asensio to return to his best, but I’m less sure about the timetable. He won’t be the same right away.
Rob Husby: Asensio will likely play somewhat if LaLiga resumes this summer to finish out the season. I don’t think he’ll necessarily start much, simply because he’s going to have a lot of rust on him after not playing an entire season. So with that being said, we shouldn’t really expect him to be in full form and giving out huge performances. They have to take it slow with him and it’s more about getting him prepared for next season.
Which Real Madrid loanee is the team in most urgent need of to bring back?
Matt Wiltse: As a member of the “Loan Tracker” podcast and someone who has watched nearly every match of his and the other loanee’s over the past two seasons, I can confidently say that Martin Odegaard is the best player Real Madrid have out on loan and given their over-reliance on the left-side of the pitch for build-up, he is also the most urgent need. That being said, I believe Odegaard will remain another season at Real Sociedad as has been reported.
Kristofer McCormack: Odegaard, but not for the reasons you’d think. From my perspective, Real Madrid can’t go into next season with the same midfield as this season. I believe in Modric’s capabilities as a back-up, however his age is going to limit him even further next season. I know and respect that alot of people think Isco will step up to Modric’s plate, however, I don’t think he did that this season and I don’t see why, with Modric a year older, you take a risk on him finding form next season.
Judging by the transfer rumours, Real Madrid definitely recognise midfield reinforcements are needed. Here’s the issue though, we are still in lockdown from the coronavirus, cross country travel is extremely difficult right now and its optimistic to believe that will change in the short term. Being realistic, getting someone like Odegaard from San Sebastian to Madrid is alot more likely than getting Paul Pogba from Manchester to Madrid in the current circumstances.
Odegaard isn’t the perfect transfer for Madrid, but he ticks alot of boxes for me and given the current market, it doesn’t make sense not trying to bring your ace loanee back for next season.
Euan McTear: Either one of Álvaro Odriozola or Achraf Hakimi. I still can’t believe they let Odriozola go in January to leave Carvajal as the only right-back for the second half of the season. It was destined to be a disaster and we’ve seen that when Carvajal has had to miss matches in the second half of this season. So, they need to bring one of them back as there has to be a reliable backup in each position.
Sam Sharpe: You are taking the mickey asking me this question. If there is a young international player out there who has been fundamental in a top four league finish and cup final run, who is also a creative genius with the vision of Doctor Strange and the touch of the Human Torch to match, then Real Madrid should probably look into getting him back.
Om Arvind: Achraf is a good shout due to a lack of depth at right back, but I’ll pick Ødegaard. It utterly baffles me to see the amount of people who want him to stay at Real Sociedad for another year. This scenario, in which Øde waits for another season and a starting spot opens up for him at the Bernabéu, makes no sense. If Ødegaard doesn’t come back after 2019/20, it’s only logical to go out and sign another CM, because, with Modrić’s continued decline and Kroos and Valverde as the only other options (that Zidane is willing to deploy in central midfield, at least), we inarguably lack depth. As a consequence, a strong argument can be made that next season is Ødegaard’s best shot at establishing himself in the first team. Sure, he wouldn’t be a lock to play every game, but we’d have to wait for him to hit his peak before he became indispensable. This is Real Madrid. Pretty much everyone has to fight for a spot. It’s better Ødegaard does that now rather than after we’ve signed one more player to compete with him.
Furthermore, we seriously lack a decisive chance creator who lives in between the lines and can offer more attacking balance on the right. Isco might’ve become that player at one point, but his career trajectory has molded him into a premier controller who moves towards the ball instead of waiting for it in advanced positions. Speaking of player evolution, I’m skeptical of the idea that Ødegaard has loads more developing to do. Most of his critical developmental years are behind him and he’s already performed at a world class level on multiple occasions. He’ll obviously continue to get better and better, but we’re talking about refinement rather than leaps forward. I whole-heartedly believe that improvement can happen at Real Madrid, where he offers a set of skills that are sorely needed and in a position with much less competition than the last several years.
Lucas Navarrete: I think it’s Odegaard just because Real Madrid need creativity in the midfield. He can play as a central midfielder and also on the right wing, which was a position of need this whole season. Achraf is also a very intriguing candidate and I believe he can compete for the starting spot with Carvajal, but Odegaard can be a key asset for Zidane and Real Madrid should bring him back next summer.
Jess Houwen: I would love to see Achraf back just because of how much he has grown since going to Dortmund.
Kiyan Sobhani: First, an important plug on this same topic.
From a pure ‘need’ standpoint, you could argue Achraf’s return is most urgent. Carvajal thrives with competition alongside him. Having someone like Achraf — who, already at his age, has plenty of experience in big games — gives you security and versatility. He can cover both flanks like Nacho (but at a much higher offensive clip), and can soak up minutes that Lucas Vazquez conjures on the right wing on the odd occasion.
But, if we’re going ‘best player available’, NBA draft style, it’s Martin Odegaard. He solves multiple issues: a lack of central midfield depth, a lack of a consistent creator from the right wing (which, to be sure, is a cluttered position with a lot of uncertainty: Vazquez’s limited ceiling, Bale’s inconsistency, Asensio’s health), and gives you some security amid Modric’s decline.
The answer is Odegaard. But as always, it’s more complex than just simply ‘choosing’ Odegaard. If the club decides not to move on from Modric next season, then you’ll have to coax the Norwegian to come back and have a reduction in playing time before Modric gets phased out. And as I wrote about in the article I linked above — if Odegaard stays at Real Sociedad one more season, can you resist the urge of signing another midfielder in the time being? If not, you’re creating a bigger hodgepodge than you need to.
Rob Husby: I think Hakimi is the loanee Real need most back with the club. They don’t really have a true right back substitute for Carvajal if he goes down with injury. Odriozola of course was sold to Bayern. Nacho and Militão can play there, but Hakimi is ready to be that sub. He needs to work on his defending a bit but there’s a lot of skill there and he looks to be Real’s right back of the future when Carvajal is no longer here. As much as Ødegaard is desired, he’s not really needed as much as a backup to Carvajal.