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Observations on Real Madrid Castilla for 2021

On defensive transition, defending crosses and Peter Federico.

2020 was a historic year for La Fabrica and although much of the history happened before August, the excitement didn’t end in Switzerland. Almost immediately after lifting the UEFA Youth League, Raul faced a quick turnaround to gather his Castilla team, play a quick series of friendlies and begin a high stakes Segunda B season all within just over a month. The roller-coaster that this campaign has been for the reserves, as well as some regular interruptions from COVID-19, means its hard to cover every aspect of the academy as well as discuss some interesting topics a little deeper.

Fortunately, the Chrstmas break offered the perfect chance to collect and simmer and ahead of the season restarting for the new year, there doesn’t seem like a better time to recap on everything one might need to know from 2020 for the coming months.

Castilla’s defensive transition struggles

The summer offered plenty to get excited about with Castilla. Sergio Arribas, Ivan Morante and Pablo Ramon all looked like exciting options heading into the new season while players like Antonio Blanco and Marvin Park all seemed to come of age on course to winning the Youth League.

Unfortunately, things have not panned out like one would have expected. Pablo Ramon picked up a muscle tear in November which ruled him out for the rest of the year while both Marvin and Morante were both only just finding their feet after injury in Castilla’s last two games.

Outside of injury, adaption has also, surprisingly, been an issue as well. Used to having it all his own way in between the lines, Sergio Arribas has been far from the dominant figure he was at U-19 level (hence why he doesn’t feature much in the video) while Sergio Santos is another player who has really struggled with the rigors of Segunda B football.

This mis-mash of factor does means we can cut Castilla a little slack for lagging between mid-table and relegation for much of 2020, however, only so much can be forgiven. Perhaps a credit to the Real Madrid youth system, Raul suffers from many of the same weaknesses that his senior team counterpart does despite their notably different approaches. Castilla are a high energy, frantic pressing possession team, a style of play that facilitates some wonderful attacking sequences.

The trade off for this style is how exposed this can leave you out of possession. Defensively, its vital to either to kill off a counter by immediately winning the ball back or regaining it in transition, its in the latter area that Castilla have really struggled (and the senior team continue to struggle with under Zidane).

None of these sequences are particularly tidy from the opposition and some proper structure in midfield could offer Castilla the chance to win the ball back early on. This brings us to one of the biggest elements of Raul’s Castilla this season, namely how neglected the midfield has been. Much Castilla’s strength this year has come from the goalscoring might of Hugo Duro and a wealth of wide attacking options.

Rightfully, this has meant much of Castilla’s possession has been committed to the flanks, however, in line with Raul’s all or nothing attitude, it has also meant that Castilla regularly drift into a 4-1-4 shape with Blanco the sole presence to connect defense and attack. I can post pictures and video of this occurring at both ends of the pitch until the cows come home, however, I’ve already spammed enough video on this article so here is a single, perfect example of the issue and its consequences.

The Madrid derby showed signs of progress in two fronts in this regard. It was the first game where Raul asked Dotor to support Blanco, creating a double pivot for the defense to play out of (although it was rarely opted for) and also was the first game we saw the real Sergio Arribas.

These are encouraging trends and timely heading into a decisive January.

How not to defend crosses.

In the comments of my match reaction to Juvenil A win over Juventus in the UYL, I remember someone saying they were concerned about the number of corners the then U-19s conceded. I remember thinking that if they were able to defend corners and crosses like they had done against Juve, they could give away as many corners as they wanted. It’s the last time I have seen this group of players effectively defend a cross.

Since that game, Castilla’s issues in the air have slowly become chronic and, at the time of writing, it seems that Raul’s side can concede a goalscoring chance regardless of the quality of the ball. There are several examples of this troubling trend, however, my favourite is the opening goal against Internacional Madrid in early December. The sequence starts at 12:15 when Inter are given a corner, the winger (named Arribas for maximum confusion) slowly trudges to the corner flag and sets up the ball, he then hands kicking duties to another player, who resets the ball. Just as it looks like the corner is about to be taken, the referee halts proceedings to speak to an Inter medic on the sideline and to allow an Inter player back onto the pitch.

By the time Inter are finally able to take the corner, Castilla have had a full minute to prepare themselves, any momentum has dissipated. Here’s what happened:

I am generally the first to defend youngsters when they make mistakes, however, there aren’t really any excuses for conceding in this manner. That there were at least four Castilla players at the near post makes the goal all the more mind boggling. Inter would equalize late on in this match via a cross. In the 2-2 draw against Poblense, the hosts second goal also came from a cross and though one might say that much of modern offensive football ends in some form of cross, the manner in which Castilla concede chances from crosses is disturbing.

Castilla, especially given injuries, haven’t been a team with a huge amount of height, however, they dont even seem to be making the most of the height they have. Closing off the crosser in the first place has also been an issue with Sergio Santos struggling for form at right back and Juvenil A’s Javi Reuda sometimes showing his inexperience defending out wide. Both players have been guilty of getting caught too close to their center back partners and giving attacking wingers a head start with the ball.

However, a lion share of blame must go to Raul. Castilla’s issue defending crosses isn’t a lack of numbers or even height, the main issue is that the team regularly don’t seem to understand their roles. Players are often caught congregating in one space on crosses.

No less than four Castilla players are at the near post, leaving the far post completely open. Its ironic that the players would gravitate towards the crosser when Raul seems to be trying to implement a zonal marking system (marking the space, rather than the man) for defending corners. Transition issues and poor (putting it kindly) defending off crosses make clean sheets a rarity and will be the main obstacles between Castilla and promotion this season.

Peter Federico is a monster

The injuries opened spots in the Castilla roster and one must praise Raul for his bravery in blooding young players rather than looking for plugholes in his own squad. Javi Rueda, in this regard, has been major success and should arguably remain in the team even when everyone is fit.

Although by the far the biggest success story at Castilla this season is an U-19s player given his Castilla chance early, its come in a position where the team is actually well endowed. Peter Federico surprised everyone in pre-season with his skill and directness. The 18-year-old should have been a talent for the future, however, his persistent brilliance in every minute he’s played at Castilla thrusted the youngster into the starting lineup to finish 2020.

Peter’s defining ability is that he can make something happen out nothing, both in and out of posession

This doesn’t look like much, but it’s one my favorites sequences on the Peter Federico highlight reel. The winger is up against it here, he doesn’t have the ball and facing down one v one against an attacker who is much bigger than he is. That he is somehow able to win a foul despite not being in possession demonstrates the best part of Federico, conjuring something for his side out of nothing.

Peter is highly adept at finding space which has made him the perfect outlet for a backline often starved of passing options. Despite being such raw talent, he’s got a very mature touch which allows him to pick long balls out of the air and run.

Outside of Hugo Duro, Peter has been been Castilla’s lone offensive spark. There is a bright future for him if he continues in this form and he’s well worth watching before the excitement inevitably begins to kick in. He didn’t play against Atletico Madrid which raises questions on whether Raul trusts him in the big games this year. The youngster has been guilty of forcing a pass and giving away cheap possession, however, even with his flaws, he’s still Castilla’s best player this season. How he will be used in 2021 will be very interesting and will surely be decisive on whether he will push on next level (in the form of a loan) or take another year to develop at Madrid. At his young age, there isn’t really any rush.

There are plenty of other points to cover with Castilla, the goalscoring might of Hugo Duro and some issues that have arisen in the lower ranks of La Fabrica over the last month or so. However, this article is already 1500 words and even those covering the team have a limit of how much they are willing to write about it. Hopefully, these observations gives you a fair idea of where Castilla are right now and might even encourage some of you to tune in on a few games in 2021.

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Posted by Managing Madrid on Saturday, January 9, 2021

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