clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bellingham as a nine? Bellingham in a diamond? Some notes from Los Angeles

Through two training sessions, Kiyan has some quick thoughts ahead of Real Madrid’s first game pre-season game on Sunday

Real Madrid Pre-Season Training Session Photo by Antonio Villalba/Real Madrid via 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.

*Some notes after touching down in LA. More to come from the USA in the coming days.

Through two training sessions in Los Angeles at UCLA campus, the most attention-grabbing talking points — apart from the typical wholesome fan hysteria and Real Madrid hugs — has been Carlo Ancelotti doing funky things in training.

On Thursday, Ancelotti experimented with Jude Bellingham as a number nine. Today, when it was time for scrimmage, Ancelotti mirrored two diamonds against each other: 1) Bellingham spear-heading a quartet on one side; and 2) Arda Güler leading the diamond on the other team.

The question then, is, how much do we need to read into these early pre-season training sessions (with special emphasis on the ‘pre-season’ part), and how much do these funky ideas matter?

Bellingham’s presence as a number nine yesterday should be taken less seriously than his role in the diamond. Keep in mind there is a grand total of one striker in the pre-season squad, and that’s Joselu. Rodrygo, a false nine candidate, is just joining the team, and may not be match fit enough to start against AC Milan Sunday night at the Rose Bowl. My best guess is that Joselu starts, and when wholesale changes arrive in the second half as they tend to do in pre-season, we’ll see either Rodrygo or Bellingham — and if Bellingham gets minutes there, my hunch is that it may be preserved as the first and last time we’ll ever see him play there.

(I expect a new attacker to arrive before the window closes.)

More interesting is that diamond, as I believe that there is a real possibility Ancelotti will use it as a way of maximizing the minutes of so many midfielders in the squad. The diamond being implemented, more importantly than it being shoe-horned in for the sake of amplifying minutes, theoretically works.

Bellingham is not the only player tailor-made to trail-blaze the diamond. With so many versatile midfielders and attackers, Ancelotti can use that formation to facilitate an eco-system where multiple players can shift in and out of the line-up without a noticeable drop-off. Güler, Rodrygo, and Brahim can all play the 10. Keeping three in midfield behind them helps distribute minutes to the rest of the midfielders. (Though, the diamond does have some draw-backs, which I wrote about last week)

READ: An analysis of Jude Bellingham in the diamond

Regardless of how it pans out, I expect some fun chaos, even if it’s only because there is a certain unpredictability to how Ancelotti will implement his publicly declared formation change that has much been theorized about.

On Thursday, the Real Madrid coach stated that the “squad has improved.” As it currently stands I am skeptical — and again, that should change by the end of summer. The team hasn’t done enough to replace Benzema’s goals yet. The French striker was also a supreme organizer of the first defensive line, and in his ‘decline’ year, still netted over 30 goals.

But on many levels, I attach no blame to Ancelotti for using the words he did. He can’t say otherwise publicly, and the club did do a good job shedding Eden Hazard, Mariano Diaz, Jesus Vallejo (and soon Alvaro Odriozola) while bringing in Güler, Brahim, Bellingham, Fran Garcia and Joselu. Losing Benzema, and even Asensio, hurts, and the team still needs a right-back — which they’re not getting this summer — but assuming a new attacker arrives, the board has done a good job turning some of the dead weight into real contributors. Hazard, Mariano, and Vallejo were just names on the club’s website — meaningless clutter that only existed in the depth chart in theory. Güler, Brahim, Joselu, and Fran Garcia are real players the team didn’t have off the bench last season.

Whether Real Madrid’s final roster will be better than last season or not is still unknown. For that, we will have to see not only the final squad, but also how they perform together under Ancelotti next season.

But I do expect more fluidity in attack and less predictable offensive schemes. A diamond provides that. Bellingham is a high-flying two-way player that will not only unlock offense through his brilliance, but along with other elite ball-winners in midfield, should generate a good amount of transition opportunities through his defensive abilities.

Perhaps it’s the aura of a new season looming and new faces arriving, but there is a certain excitement in the Real Madrid camp right now.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Managing Madrid Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Real Madrid news from Managing Madrid