What Could Become Real Madrid’s Achilles Heel Heading into the New Season?

Real MadridThis pre-season has made Real Madrid look very strong in the eyes of the world, beating teams like Chelsea, Inter Milan, and PSG. There are evident strengths that will make Real Madrid a threat this year like their offensive midfield and speed, however some issues have also come to light. This article will focus on two key issues that may cost Real Madrid a point or two.

Firstly, Real Madrid’s defense has been their Achilles heel for the past few seasons as individual errors and injuries have left the team exposed. It was very well known that the best way to score against Real Madrid was through aerial play, and rivals did not hesitate to take advantage of this. This issue diminished with the arrival of Diego Lopez and the emergence of Raphael Varane as their height gave the team a big boost, although it never fully left.

The arrival of Dani Carvajal has given Carlo Ancelotti an advantage in having Carvajal and Arbeloa, two skilled players who serve different purposes. While Arbeloa is noticeably better at defending, Carvajal is better at attacking and compliments the team with his passes up front. The team lacked this last year and we saw Mourinho improvising with Essien and even Callejon in a few instances. In this past game against Real Betis, Carvajal’s weaknesses were visible as he failed to cover up the attackers on time in multiple occasions.

On the left side, Ancelotti was gifted with Coentrão and Marcelo who, like Arbeloa and Carvajal, serve opposite purposes. This allows for the coach to plan his starting eleven depending on the rival and needs of the team. Unfortunately, it has been announced that Coentrão has asked to leave the team, a decision that Real Madrid will honor. This will mean a huge blow for Madrid as Coentrão has majorly improved in recent years. After Marcelo’s long injury break, he gained a lot of weight and lost form that he is just now finishing recovering from, which is why having the option of Coentrão benefited the team so much.

Now Ancelotti is left with Denis Cheryshev, whose natural position is attacking, the reason why he committed so many mistakes in the pre-season. Another option in case Marcelo is unavailable would be playing Carvajal on the right and Arbeloa on the left; we saw this option against Inter and it did not look bad at all. Of course, the last option would include the incorporation of Gareth Bale to the squad, which would be great as he can play in so many different positions including left back. In this first game against Betis, Marcelo showed how fit he is, and although one game does not determine a player’s reality, it was a good sighting.

In terms of central backs, Real Madrid have Sergio Ramos as the key player. Varane is currently injured and his recovery process seems to be taking a little more than expected, while Pepe has significantly dropped his form from 2012 and this gives the fans a big reason to worry. Pepe is nowhere near his best form and he was left exposed many times in this pre-season. Against Betis, both Ramos and Pepe committed errors that could have led to a different result had it not been for Diego Lopez’s interventions and a bit of luck.

Real MadridOther options include Nacho, Casado, and Mateos who, to be honest, did not transmit that “confidence” that a center-back should have in the pre-season. Real Madrid’s youth system is very big and filled with talent from where a great center-back can be easily found. Two better options than the three being handled, in my opinion, are Derik Osede and Diego Llorente. They made their debut last season with Jose Mourinho and had an outstanding, but unfortunately short, U20 World Cup with Spain, receiving compliments from Gary Neville himself.

Center-backs, because of their role on the pitch, are more prone to being suspended. Sergio Ramos has been sent off more than any other player in Real Madrid’s history, and Pepe can be, although has not been in a very long time, hot-headed. Varane has only received one yellow card in his career with Real Madrid for a non-violent action against Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, and we can rest assured that Varane is the least likely to be suspended. Suspensions will happen throughout the season for which it is good to have capable defenders ready to assume important roles, potentially in decisive games against the biggest teams in Europe.

The second issue is the lack of goal-scorers in Real Madrid. If you take away Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid do not score nearly as many goals as they should, and it is not because of the lack of opportunities but because of the poor finishing. With Gonzalo Higuain gone, which amounts at least 20 goals per season, there has been no adequate replacement signed. Karim Benzema can have a fantastic day, just like he can have a day where he does not appear at all, and with the two legal issues he is facing, we might see him away around February, which will be a key month. Against Betis, Benzema had a plethora of opportunities, many of which he wasted by being offside and caused the fans their first headache of the season.

The other two forwards are Alvaro Morata and Jesé Rodriguez, something very unusual for Real Madrid. Los Blancos, by default, always signs the best in the world, and although both youth have a lot of potential, neither is anywhere near the world’s top strikers. Looking back, Real Madrid has always had at least two strikers who made the top 15 as per everyone’s opinion. Raul and Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy and Higuain, Higuain and Benzema and so on. Perhaps this is a new approach, to play your cards on the youth, but to me it seems risky and very unlike the team’s philosophy.

Of course the transfer window is not closed yet, and it would not be at all surprising to see Bale join, which would mean a solid 20-30 goals per season. If we look at positioning, Benzema and Morata are the only options as 9′s. Jese playing as a 9 loses his creativity and the space he needs to be more deadly. He played as a 9 in the first few games with Spain U20 in the World Cup and his impact was noticeably diminished.

Aside from these two issues that have the potential to be costly, Real Madrid have a very strong team this season and a lot of money will be bet on them to win it all. Even with Alonso out of the picture right now, a strong midfield in Luka Modric, Sami Khedira, Illarramendi, and Casemiro have given the fans a reason to dream.

To add on to them, the chemistry with which they communicate with the line up front is amazing. Isco, Di Maria, Ozil, Cristiano, and Kaka will be benefiting from a lot of good passing, fast play, and different trickery from each other. The midfield is undoubtedly Real Madrid’s strongest point and it has the necessary depth to last the whole season, even when injuries and suspensions are brought up, although this is not necessarily the case with the forwards and the center-backs.

Written by RMadridGirl

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Zinedine Zidane Focused on Building Future for Real Madrid by Signing Young Talents

Raphaël VaraneThe term “Galacticos” became widely known in the early 2000s, but the origins of the term date back to the 1950s. Santiago Bernabeu, then president of Real Madrid, started a trend of signing superstars. Di Stefano, Puskas, Kopa, Santamaria, and Gento were signed, and an era of Real Madrid dominance began. Quinta Del Buitre followed in the 1980s, but with a slight difference in that the 5 superstars where all homegrown players.

Then came one of the most recognized periods in Real Madrid’s modern history, Florentino Perez’s Galactico. Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo, and Beckham were signed in successive from 2000 until 2003, achieving initial success in the first three seasons but failing to win any trophy for the next three years, resulting in the resignation of the Galactico’s engineer, Florentino Perez. After a brief Ramon Calderon tenure, Perez returned to build a new Galactico. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Khedira, Alonso, Ozil, and Di Maria made up the second Galactico, but the club only achieved 1 La Liga title, 1 Copa Del Rey, and 1 Spanish Super Cup in 4 seasons.

In his autobiography, Steve Mcmanaman, a former Real Madrid player, described his club’s transfer policy as the “Disneyfication of Real Madrid,” a clear indication that signings were made based on reputation and marketing potential rather then quality. A club director clearly stated that David Beckham was a goldmine, while Ronaldinho was too ugly to play for Madrid. Carvajal was resigned from Leverkusen, Isco was stolen from Man City in the last seconds, Illaramendi joined for an astronomical sum, Jese Rodriguez, Morata, and Casemiro will be promoted. Are Florentino’s Galacticos getting replaced by Zidane’s young talents?

Since the beginning of May, names such as Bale, Suarez, Lewandowski, and Cavani were circulated in the press as targets for the Merengues, but 3 relatively unknown young talents joined instead. A new mentality is obviously taking over the Spanish capital, a mentality that emphasizes building for the future through attracting soon-to-be superstars. What is clear is that Zidane stands behind this major change. Once a close adviser for the president, Zidane was officially put in charge of all transfers this season, in addition to his role as Ancelotti’s second assistant. According to Marca, the French legend personally phoned Isco and Illaramendi to convince them of joining his project.

IscoAfter bringing Varane last year, then Carvajal, Isco, and Illaramendi this year, add to them Nacho, Jese, Morata, Casemiro and the experienced but still young Ozil and Benzema, subtract Higuain, Di Maria, Kaka, Coentrao, Pepe, and Alonso who are either leaving this year or the next, you will get a success formula, which is that Real Madrid surely have a team for the future.

So the future looks bright for Los Blancos. No more impossible negotiations, no more last minute deals, no more paying exorbitant figures in vein. Having been a victim of Perez’s former mind games, Zidane seems to have made a shift in how new deals will be conducted, and whom to target from now on. Before Florentino Perez’s first arrival in 2000, a club legend by the name of Raul Gonzalez said:

“The dressing room is a cesspit of lies, treachery and whispers. I feel sorry for new players coming into the club. If they think they are coming to one of the world’s top clubs then they have made a big mistake.”

This was the mood at Madrid before the first Galacticos Era, and the signing of big names proved to be a short term solution, as the club endured a trophy drought for 3 consecutive seasons. The second Galacticos Era, led by the Portuguese Ronaldo, did not prove to be much better, as it was dominated by Barcelona’s second “Dream Team” and only managed to win 3 titles in as many seasons. Now the mood seems to be different, and things are being run in a different manner. Faithful supporters are brimming with confidence, positive about a future with a young, coherent squad lead by the legendary Zinedine Zidane.

It remains to be seen if the current crop of youngsters will gel together and achieve what is required of them. After all Perez is a man known for his impatience, and a club of Madrid’s stature doesn’t offer the luxury of taking time to slowly but steadily build a team for the future. What is certain is that either Zidane’s vision, or Perez’s planning will be proven wrong.

Written by Hassan Chakroun

Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid: El Clasico Victory Sees Madrid Advance to Final

Barcelona v Real MadridThis past Tuesday night saw an extremely exciting match, as the two biggest teams in Spain met once again for yet another edition of El Clasico at the Estadio Camp Nou in Barcelona.

With the teams holding out a draw in the first leg, this game was still very much open, which made looking forward to a second leg even more exciting! I’m sure everyone expected a very strong performance from both teams, and even more from the home team, who would be out to erase the pain of a European loss from the minds of their fans and get back to winning ways.

All eyes, I’m sure, were on Ballon D’Or winner, Lionel Messi, as well as on a very strong Cristiano Ronaldo as the world waited for the referee to blow the first whistle.

For the first 5-10 minutes of the game, Barcelona looked to be the first team to score, as they kept the most possession and seemed to threaten more at the Madrid end. The home side were even almost rewarded with a penalty in the 12th minute, only that the bad challenge had happened just outside the box.

After having gotten a free-kick in a very good spot from that challenge, however, the home side failed to take advantage of that chance, and their opponents were able to take advantage of this and make a good counter. In only about 60 seconds, what could’ve happened at one end happened at the other; Cristiano Ronaldo was fouled in the penalty area and the away side were awarded a penalty, which Ronaldo successfully converted into a wonderful goal, making him the first ever player to score in six successive clasicos away from home.

As soon as the home side realized what this meant, they tried to level things again, but the Madrid defense was just too strong. The whole Madrid team was playing confidently from their lead. Messi had a few decent attempts on goal, but Sergio Ramos & co. weren’t about to let anything ruin the night for their team! They did everything to clear the ball quickly and get their team on to good counters and try to catch their adversaries slipping.

Real Madrid’s wishes came true after Cristiano Ronaldo, with a little help from Angel Di Maria, was able to get past Pinto and net his second of the night, providing his team a little more safety in the form of a 2-goal cushion.

Barcelona v Real MadridI think that at this point, with the way the home side were playing at that moment, many of us thought we would see a hat-trick from the magical Portuguese international. And indeed, we saw something close to that when he almost got a touch to his side’s third goal of the night, which was courtesy of an absolutely magnificent header by Raphael Varane. Three goals from Real, and by now FC Barcelona were surely finished, it seemed!

With only about 22 minutes left for Barcelona to get three goals, at least, it would only take them a miracle. The home side started to pick up a bit, but it was just not enough. Lionel Messi wasn’t quite getting there, and the Barcelona defense was just all over the place! Real Madrid could’ve added to their lead a few times after that, but fortunately for Barcelona, they were prevented.

The game was basically all Madrid from there, although there were a few good attempts to get the ball forward from the Blaugrana. All they managed to get, however, was a last-minute consolation (no, not from Messi, but from Jordi Alba)!

In as much as one would expect some drama and controversy in an El Clasico, it was great to see a clean match, in that no players were sent off during this match. There was a little trouble caused to Real Madrid defender Pepe by Puyol & co. towards the end, as well as the usual trouble in the stands, but it was nothing too serious; just a lot of pressure for the home side. Three yellow cards were issued during this match; 2 to Barcelona (Pique, Puyol) and 1 to Real Madrid (Arbeloa).

After their decisive victory over Barca, Real Madrid now advance to the 110th Copa Del Rey Final against Atletico Madrid. The match will be contested on 18 March 2013, and the (neutral) ground at which it will played in will be announced by RFEF. Their last meeting at the Copa Del Rey final occurred in 1975, where Real Madrid emerged victorious following 4-3 penalty shootout win (after ending 0-0 AET).


Jordi Roura (standing in for Tito Vilanova) and Jose Mourinho lined up the following squads:

Barcelona Starting XI:

Pinto, Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, Pique, Puyol (c); Busquets, Fabregas, Iniesta, Xavi; Messi, Pedro

Subs:  Valdes, Adriano, Song, Mascherano, Alcantara, David Villa, and Tello

Real Madrid Starting XI:

Diego Lopez, Arbeloa, Coentrao, Varane, Sergio Ramos (c); Di Maria, Ozil, Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Ronaldo; Higuain

Subs: Adan, Pepe, Callejon, Kaka, Modric, Essien, Benzema

Final Score: Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid

Ronaldo 13′ (pen), 57′, Varane 68′, Jordi Alba 89′

Written by Ange Marline

Nastasic vs Varane-Tactical Analysis: Part 2

Click here to view Part 1 of this article.

Raphael VaraneOnto Varane. Varane’s popularity has risen considerably this season, immensely more due to last night’s performance at the Camp Nou, absolutely manhandling Messi and scoring a bullet header sealing Madrid’s memorable victory.

Varane, who stands at a sturdy 6 ft 3, is a considerably physically-representable defender who, much like Nastasic, is extremely well built.  Varane, who is 19, and is still blooming into his future physical prime, is excessively fast for a built center back. His ability to change speed and direction in an almost instantaneous fashion is compelling for a defender of such build; rarely do we see any defender, let alone at such a young age, master their speed to be their class attribute.

Due to his highly capable speed, stamina, agility and physical prowess, many strikers will struggle against him, of all sizes and technique, as he showed last night, constantly defiling Messi of the ball, with clever nicks and tackles.

For me, Varane’s best and most excessively used attribute  is his ability to read the game. A defender must have basic abilities to be a natural physical presence, aerial threat, capable of tackling/positioning and most definitely having the mental capability to understand and read passages of opposition play. Obviously, as you play more, you gain more. For someone who is just 19, Varane has an exceptional adaptation to reading passages of attacking play from the opposing teams. His ability to spot the threat, target it, and finally neutralise it, is that much similar to that of legend Fabio Cannavaro (who had to excel in this aspect, as he wasn’t as physically fortuitous as other defenders).

Varane, who joins Nastasic, as the ever-growing ‘new’ breed of technically enhanced defenders, is one of my favorite defenders to watch. His execution-ate ability to make precise passes and clever-non-rushed clearances  without slowing down play is that which managers aspire to find in exceptional midfielders; having it in a quality center-back is a dream that only few make reality.

Down to the analysis comparison (La Liga/Premier League stats).

Matija NastasicStarting with Varane. Varane has had a total of 9 appearances so far for Madrid this season. The player, not surprisingly, has been able to create two goal scoring opportunities for the Galacticos, which however, weren’t converted. Varane having an average passing accuracy of 84% overall is that of an extremely high level for a defender having over 200 passes.

Nastasic has had 16 appearances in the league for City this season, contributing little to nothing going forward. Nastasic, however, proving he, so far, is the more technically adept out of the two with 86% passing accuracy with over 600 passes. This proving he, by almost having double the appearances, he has made triple the amount of passes and still attained a higher passing average. This makes Nastasic, statistically, the better defender of technicality.

In-depth Analysis:

As you can see the pair have their advantages over each over in various outlooks of their defensive statistics. In my opinion it is an equal positioning between the two statistically as, I consider the two key attributes of tackling and heading duels, are clearly won at one a piece.

Varane who has only made 7 successful tackles with that at 70% compared to Nastasic’s 95% with 25/26 completed, Nastasic is clearly the more dominant defender in winning tackles having flustered Varane in comparison. Varane has obviously played less games, so his statistics will vary to those of Nastasic’s, making this difficult in comparison of  numbers. Fouls committed: I don’t consider a true aspect of defending, as tactical fouls, compared to malicious, cannot be drawn from one another, so they are void. And obviously taking on is also invalid for a defender, as… well, obvious reasons.

Finally, headed dueling is clearly won in percentage by Varane with a solid 80% compared to Nastasic’s 64%. However, the La Liga is renowned for representing smaller forwards to the Premier League, so there may be some intake on that situation, however, there is no doubt Varane is seen a dominant aerial threat.

Overall, they are both clearly astounding and world-class defenders. Only being 19 and as inexperienced as they are, they will become two of the worlds greatest center backs we have come to know in this day and age of modern football.

But who is better?

Personally, I would go with Nastasic, statistic-wise. His statistic’s obviously prove he is a reliable and consistent counter-half to many strikers. However, Varane, as of late has impressed me more and has put in absolutely astounding performances, and from that I’m tempted to say him, so by cancellation, I’d have to go with an equal pressing.

Written by Trequartister

Nastasic vs Varane-Tactical Analysis: Part 1

Raphael VaraneWe’ve all come to know over this season just who Matija Nastasic and Raphael Varane are. We all know they play for the two billionaire super-clubs Manchester City and Real Madrid, but who is the better footballer?

In this article I will go detail for detail, statistic for statistic, to see who the best upcoming center-back in the world truly is.

Firstly, a bit about the players, an informative bio as such.

Both players are currently 19. Yes, only 19, and with only a month separating them in age, there can be no arguments to development and experience between them.

Starting with Nastasic: Nastasic signed for current Premier League Champions City on deadline day in August 2012. The fee is reportedly around a €15million+Stevan Savic, who was exchanged as part of the deal. Nastasic made his City debut in the massive clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu (in which Varane also played). Nastasic has gone on to make 16 appearances for City.

Varane signed for Madrid in June 2011 for a smaller fee than Nastasic’s of around €10million. Varane’s debut came the September after signing in a 0-0 clash with Racing Santander. Varane’s first goal for Madrid made him the youngest foreign player, at 18 years and 152 days, to score a goal in a competitive match for Real Madrid. He has gone on to make 18 appearances for the club.

As we know, the two have faced each other before, such as the madness of the first Madrid vs City clash of the group stages in this season’s Champions League. Real Madrid won the game 3-2 due to two astounding late goals from Benzema and Ronaldo. Both players played the full 90 minutes and there wasn’t much to say for either of them, both picking up an average rating of 6. Few analyse that Benzema’s 87th minute equalizer was down to Nastasic’s poor marking and concentration, however, nothing can be taken away from the spectacular goal.

So, now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the analysis.

Matija NastasicNastasic, as a center-back is touted to be much like that of Mats Hummels: technically brilliant. Technically, Nastasic possesses the ability in which many defenders are unable to, the likes of complete control, steady-headed awareness on the ball, and sublime passing are all attributes he, undoubtedly, has.

Nastasic is that of an increasing breed of technically enhanced defenders. Along with his technical ability, his defensive qualities and experience for a 19 year-old are that most never obtain. His demanding physical presence strikes fear into the attackers who he marks. Body-to-body, not many will win the battle against him. He is extremely agile for a center-back and has adapted to the clinical strikers, who possess next-level turning abilities. His defensive stance makes him hard to take on, treading back while facing the attacker proves almost inevitable to pass.

His tactical astuteness is another benefactor to his co-center-backs. Being so adaptable and maneuverable, Nastasic’s maturity to rotate positions is by far extreme examples of quality versatility. As well as being physically adept, he is also vocally; Nastasic is not one to buckle up and stay shut, he let’s his compatriots know of threats and runs through the midfield area, giving them chance to quickly lock down any goal threats.

However, as every human being and footballer player alike, weaknesses are valid. Nastasic’s main drop-down, is his inability to concentrate. The player, becomes lazy and distracted. Although young and obviously inexperienced - his schoolboy errors of dropping in concentration are no excuses for the level of football he plays week-in, week-out. His mentality seems to be what drops him down from being an all round complete defender right now. Physically and technically he’s rising to be the best. However, mentally, he’s dropping equal to that of the lower divisions.

Click here to view Part 2 of this article.

Written by Trequartister