Bale to pull Real Madrid out of their mini crisis

Three months into the 2017/18 European football season and Real Madrid is struggling.

After winning back-to-back Champions League titles and a major double last season, los Blancos were expected to continue their dominance. And they looked set to do so after their performance against Manchester United in the European Super Cup and their thrashing of Barcelona over the course of two legs in the Spanish Super Cup.

It was the Merengues who were flying while their arch-rivals were — and technically still are —  in the midst of a bureaucratic crisis, which everyone anticipated would spill over to the field. Instead, it is the Blaugrana and not Real Madrid who find themselves having a good run in all competitions— sitting comfortably atop the league, look set to top their group in the Champions League and have comfortably progressed to the next round of the Copa del Rey.

Real Madrid, in contrast, are sitting fourth in La Liga — eight points behind Barcelona,  are most certain to finish second in their Champions League group, and turned in an embarrassing performance at the Bernabéu against third league team Fuenlabrada  in the Copa del Rey.

There are a number of reasons behind the club’s misfortunes. They haven’t been able to field the BBC in months, players are off-form, Ronaldo and the team in general are shooting blanks, injuries have taken a toll— Bale and Kovacic both suffered serious injuries— and most importantly, the club hadn’t sufficiently replaced Morata, Mariano and James.

Things could get worse for the team too.

They are about to begin a rather difficult schedule. They travel to Basque country to meet Atheltic Bilbao on Saturday, who are themselves in the midst of a small crisis. Los Leones currently sit 16th in the league but when it comes to, their league position doesn’t matter. The San Mamés is a notoriously difficult stadium to play in and can be a source of disappointment for Real Madrid.

Los Blancothen welcomes Dortmund to the Bernabéu on Wednesday for their final Champions League group game of the season, followed by Sevilla three days later. The club then travels for the Club World Cup semi-final and final between December 13th and 16th, and then it’s back to Spain for El Clásico on December 23rd in the Bernabéu.

This is a very crucial period for Real Madrid and they are all must win games, with the exception of, maybe, the game against Dortmund.

The tides could— and have to— begin to change for the club starting on Saturday. Zidane was able to welcome back Bale to the team on Tuesday and his return could coincide with a turn in the team’s fortunes. His cameo against Fuenlabrada was what prevented Real Madrid from being the laughing stock of La Liga teams in the Copa, as he had a hand in both goals.

A lack of goals and an out of sync backline has been a great source of pain for Real Madrid this season and Bale’s return could remedy that to an extent.

Is it time for Real Madrid to panic?

zizou-headacheFive games into the 2017/18 La Liga season and Real Madrid is already seven points off the pace and currently sits seventh in the table. They’ve won a meagre two games, drawn two and lost one.

Zidane’s men haven’t played terribly so far this season but they have been abhorrent in front of goal, creating a myriad of chances but failing to put them away. An incredulous feat from a team that has Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.

Ronaldo was banned for five games for shoving the referee in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. He missed the return leg of the Super Copa and the first four La Liga games, so naturally, Real Madrid was happy about his expected return against Betis but that went sour pretty quickly.

Before last night’s game against Betis, Real Madrid had scored in 73 consecutive games but the team was unable to get anything past ex-Madrid man Adán, who made a number of man-of-the-match worthy saves. Coupled with the Betis goalkeeper’s spectacular display, both Bale and Ronaldo weren’t at their best. Ronaldo had a torrid time in front of goal, skying numerous shots and Bale on the other hand, was in and out of the game but had one brilliant shot on goal that saw Adán conjure up a miraculous save to deny him.

While los Merengues have struggled to bury their scoring opportunities, both Mariano and Morata have hit the ground running for their new clubs. The latter was sort of a saviour last season, coming on as a substitute to score or lay-off the winning goal.

Bale has had a slow start to the season scoring only once and has thus far contributed very little to the team’s play and dynamic. Benzema, before his injury against Levante, was creating chances but hadn’t put away any of his efforts.

Mayoral’s presence in the squad was already a bit risky and his introduction into last night’s game says the club needed a striker in the summer and should have made the effort to replace Mariano and Morata’s departure. He’s a promising player with an abundance of potential and his unfortunate loan stint at Wolfsburg means he hardly had the chance to really hone his skills and therefore, including him as the only backup to Benzema was an absurd decision and could prove to be truly disastrous. Will he be able to provide the team with goals in dire moments the way Morata was able to?

Zidane initially said the club needed a new striker but as the possibility of signing M’bappe dwindled, he then changed his initial assessment and said he was happy with the squad and that it didn’t need any more players. Last night’s debacle begs to differ and indicates that his original evaluation remains true.

Real Madrid find themselves in a precarious predicament and it will be difficult to claw themselves out of this position. They have failed to make the Bernabéu a sanctuary so far this season and have picked up a paltry two points out of a possible nine. And of the five official games they’ve played at home, the team’s won two, drawn two and lost one.

Los Blancos will certainly find form as the season drags on, but in a league where so little points are dropped and there’s very little between the top two, seven points behind a Barça team that seems in fine form, despite their troubles in the boardroom, will be a tough ask for the whites. Even more so, as they have yet to meet their toughest opponents- the likes of Sevilla, cross-town rivals Atlético and arch-rivals Barcelona.

In his post-game press conference, the ever so composed Zidane said, the team has to “remain calm and focus on the next game. La Liga is a long competition”.  He may be right but his team no longer holds their destiny in their own hands.

In defence of Dembélé

dembeleAs we’ve known for the past few weeks, Ousmane Demebélé has been AWOL since he’s gotten word that Barcelona desperately wants him. He’s refused to show up for training and has since been fined and suspended by Dortmund for his lack of professionalism. According to German newspaper Bild, he’s last been sighted in Monaco.

It’s never easy for players to resist the allure of playing for a top club, especially when that club is two-time treble winners Barcelona, which also has one of the world’s best players of all-time on their team.

It’s also difficult to resist the enticement of playing in the best league— based on UEFA’s ranking. And while both Dortmund and the Bundesliga, in their own right, are right up there with the best teams and leagues respectively, Barça and La Liga are far more attractive options.

So who could really forgo all that allure? Established players, the likes of Suarez, Rakitic, Modric, Ronaldo and Bale were all unable to fight the temptation to join their current clubs and immediately made the move when the opportunity presented itself. If those players couldn’t resist the urge, how could a 20-year-old rising star possibly do so?

Another perspective

There’s this theory from psychologist Frederick Herzberg, called the Two-Factor Theory. This premise basically suggests there are factors in the workplace, which affect job satisfaction and those which affect job dissatisfaction. The theory makes a distinction between two groups: Motivators and Hygiene factors.

Motivators are described as intrinsic factors arising from work conditions and affect job satisfaction. Some examples of them are: self-actualisation, recognition, opportunity to do something meaningful and a sense of importance.

Hygiene factors, on the other hand, are extrinsic to the work and affect job dissatisfaction. Examples of these factors are: salary/wages, benefits, status, work conditions and good pay.

According to Herzberg, hygiene factors don’t lead to higher motivation or job satisfaction but a lack of these factors can lead to job dissatisfaction. Motivators, conversely, lead to job satisfaction and increased motivation but don’t necessarily eliminate job dissatisfaction.

It’s worth noting here that Herzberg didn’t see job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction as opposites. He saw it the following way:

  • the opposite of job satisfaction as no job satisfaction and,
  • the opposite of job dissatisfaction as no job dissatisfaction.

Considering the information available to us, Dembélé already earns above average wages, works under fairly good conditions and seems to get along with the majority of his peers, which means the likelihood dissatisfaction exists is pretty low— conclusion: no dissatisfaction. He, however, feels that he’s done enough at Dortmund and achieved all he could, which means he sees no job satisfaction and the only way to achieve this is to seek a new challenge, currently offered by Barça. What normal, ambitious person doesn’t have a desire to accomplish more and even more so when the opportunity to do so is banging at the door?

So, while most of us may think Dembélé only wants this move because of the increased pay which comes with it, it is worth considering that it’s equally likely and possibly more logical that he’s pushing for a transfer to Barça because he:

  • has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like win the Champions League— an unlikely feat for Dortmund this season, with or without him.
  • has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like win the league and though plausible at Dortmund will prove difficult to do, considering Bayern is so dominant.
  • has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like take on a new challenge in a new and better league
  • can feel a “sense of importance” by being able to compete and win every possible trophy.
  • can feel a “sense of importance” by becoming a regular at a top club and playing with one of the world’s all-time greats.
  • can feel a “sense of responsibility” by becoming the player who satisfactorily fills the colossal aperture left behind by Neymar.

So before we condemn and bemoan him and deem him a money grubber, it’s worth considering the need to fulfil his potential, something Dortmund can no longer offer him.

Dortmund have also resigned themselves to a sale, as was revealed earlier today by the club’s sporting director Michael Zorc before the team’s Bundesliga kick-off, and we should too.


Has Real Madrid done enough in the summer transfer window?

Squad celebrating supercopa.jpg
Team celebrating their European Super Cup win against Manchester United

After an extraordinary season and having etched their names into the annals of history, Real Madrid looked a magnificent team that never really needed any additional [big name] signings given their strength in depth. However, based on the wants of players, there were always going to be adjustments. Some of which could either propel the team to the brink of invincibility or see them unravel after a near perfect 2016/17 season.

The team’s goal is to maintain stability and bolster the squad, where necessary. Selling too many [important] players would be a disruptive path to continued stability, which raises a number of questions: how has the club performed in the transfer window so far? Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little? Are they making reasonable moves?

Before answering those questions, we should ask ourselves: what were Los Blancos’ weaknesses despite a glorious double — winning the Champions League and La Liga, an accomplishment not experienced by the whites for more than 50 years — and making history by becoming the first team to win the continental title back-to-back since the era of the Champions League?

The first answer that comes to mind, is the need for bolstering the defence. Real Madrid would have actually lost quite a few games without the likes of Navas, who was in especially fine form towards the end of the season and their incredible players in attack, who just enjoyed outscoring their opponents in games.

Then there was the problem of keeping everyone happy, including those who played a fringe role — James, Coentrão, Danilo, Nacho, Kovacic, Mariano and Casilla — and those who wanted to be more than just a regular substitute — Isco, Morata, Vazquez and Asensio. Zidane was clearly an excellent motivator and had for the most part convinced the majority of players of their importance to the team, even when they didn’t play as regularly as they’d have liked. He even managed to persuade Ronaldo that he needed to be fresh for the final lap of the season and to achieve that he had to accept that he wouldn’t be able to every game.

That was last season and while he succeeded, some players were not going to be convinced for the upcoming season and wanted to seek opportunities outside of Real Madrid.

Los Blancos has since sold Danilo (ca. €30M), Morata (€65.6M plus add-ons) and Mariano (ca. €8M) to Manchester City, Chelsea and Lyon, respectively. James has been sent to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Coentrão was loaned to Sporting Lisbon for a season and Pepe wasn’t offered a new deal, thereby making him a free agent.

Fairly good business, as Coentrão was injury-prone; James, though brilliant, apparently had a poor attitude in training  — if the rumours are to be believed — and he obviously wasn’t a favourite of Zidane’s; Danilo never quite unlocked his full potential at Real — partly down to Carvajal’s constant brilliance —, and was especially prone to mistakes in defence. Pepe was an ageing defender, who at some point had to be replaced, granted Real could’ve done a better job of “phasing” him out; Mariano showed flashes of his brilliance when he was given the opportunity to play and if he can fine tune his talent at Lyon, Real will certainly activate his buy-back clause; then there is Morata, a special case. Incredibly talented player, who in his own right had to move on if he wanted to become more than a super sub, as there was no chance of him breaking into the starting line-up as long as the BBC was still active in Madrid. And at 24, it was now or never and he chose now.

L-R: Ceballos, Mayoral, Asensio, Vallejo, Llorente and Raúl.

Has the club sufficiently replaced the players gone?

Returning to the club is centre back Vallejo, who spent a year on loan at Frankfurt and was a main stay in the starting 11 for the Bundesliga club. The 20-year-old had a solid loan spell at the Eagles and helped his team to the German Cup final. He has extremely good concentration on the park, rarely loses the ball and is a tidy passer. He does need to work on his aggressiveness when trying to win the ball back and his aerial duel —he had a meagre 1.2 tackles per game according to WhoScored and he won on average 2.2 aerial battles per game last season in the Bundesliga. He does have promise and under the tutelage of both Ramos and Varane and with experience overtime he could develop into a defensive super star. His signing is an overall useful and reliable one both for the present and future.

Grade: B+.

Also returning to the club is Marcos Llorente, who had an impressive loan spell at Deportivo Alavés. Llorente comes from footballing royalty — his great uncle is Real Madrid legend Paco Gento and his father is Paco Llorente Gento, a Madrid legend in his own right. Young Llorente seems to be following in their footsteps, as he was a constant in the starting line-up at Alavés and helped lead his club to the Spanish Cup final. He was able to exhibit his quality, while gaining experience with the Basque side. He doesn’t have any explicit weaknesses, has excellent tackling abilities and is great at breaking up the opponents’ play. Per WhoScored he had an average of 3.8 tackles per game, better than Sergio Ramos’ season average.  He’s also a neat passer —he had an average pass quota of 87%  last season. Llorente is without a doubt a rising star and is only 22. He will have the chance to hone his skills under the guidance of players like Ramos, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Varane, et al. His return has bolstered los Blancos’ already strong midfield and provides necessary cover for Casemiro.

Grade: A

Borja Mayoral, is one of Madrid’s most promising forwards and has already been compared to club legend Raúl. He had a torrid time on loan at Wolfsburg last season, not because of his lack of quality but rather the perpetual chaos that broke out at the club and the problems that ensued —the club changed coaches several times. However, Zidane has always been a fan of him and the 20-year-old looks set to replace Morata in the squad, even taking over the Chelsea man’s old squad number. His lack of playing time at the Wolves meant he hardly played a role for Spain at the U21 European Championship this summer and made a solitary appearance as a substitute. Considering the scarcity in playing time and inadequate experience, his presence in los Blancos’ squad doesn’t seem all too encouraging but he at least deserves a chance and he’s excelled at the youth level, which may translate into success for him in the first team.

Grade: C+

Theo on his pre-season debut against Manchester United

With Coentrão gone, Marcelo needed a deputy. The club needed a player who isn’t prone to injury and capable of stepping up to the plate when called upon. Theo Hernández is exactly that player and at just 19 he could develop into a long-term fixture at Real Madrid, especially under the tutelage of the brilliant Brazilian. Theo, like Marcelo, loves to dribble and can deliver lethal crosses into the box. He also has a wicked left foot and can punish teams from dead ball situations— not that he’ll have a chance to put it to use often, if ever, but it is nice to know he has it in his arsenal. And in a team as fluid as Madrid, his runs down the left could see him start cutting into the box more and punishing the net with that left foot of his. Excellent signing.

Grade: A

Replacing James and bringing in ample cover for Kroos and/or Modric was crucial for the club this season. As we saw last season, los Blancos had trouble at times filling the boots of both the German and Croatian. That’s where Spanish football’s newest prodigy comes in. Dani Ceballos, with his nimble feet and stunning dribbles, enjoys breaking ankles and leaving players dead in his wake. The young Spaniard had an outstanding U21 European Championship and was named player of the tournament. He holds the ball well, can deliver scrumptious passes, tends to get fouled a lot because of his sensational dribbling and gets involved defensively with strong tackling. He does however, need to work on his finishing. It must be frustrating for a player with his skill and talent, who can’t finish off one of his menacing runs. He is nevertheless a massive talent and a player capable of filling the boots of Modric and/or Kroos, when they’re injured or when they choose to move on. One for the future.

Grade: A

L-R: Luca Zidane, Borja Mayoral, Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente

Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little?

The club has done some good business so far, with the exception of not filling the spot left open by Danilo’s departure and the apparent faith placed in the inexperienced Mayoral.

The open right back position may well be filled by either Álvaro Tejero or Achraf Hakimi, both talented young players, who’ve both been impressive for the youth team and were standouts during the club’s pre-season tour. However, like Mayoral, they could either turn out to be brilliant players, who can handle the weight of wearing the white shirt or they could all crack under the pressure.

Placing confidence in these youngsters is a bold move from Zidane but their performances in pre-season show they may well be ready for the demands that come with the badge.

The fact los Blancos has been able to keep their core team together and replace fringe players sufficiently, they seem set to continue their success. Additionally, all the signings made so far means the club has also made an effort to build for the future —the average age of the squad is 25.6 years.

They’ve thus far performed shrewdly in the market and don’t necessarily need another signing but if they do bring in one, say…Mbappé, it’d be fine. But signing the French man seems to really be a stretch, especially since Monaco wants €180M for the player and he is demanding a net salary of €12M/year.

Overall Grade: A-


Is Real Madrid prepared for the transfer ban?

By now you must have heard- and if not, how’s that rock you’re living under? – that FIFA has upheld the ban against both Real Madrid and their city rival Atletico Madrid for “irregularities” in the signing of players under the age of 18.

What does that mean for Real Madrid?

In short, Los Blancos will be banned from making any signings in the next two transfer windows (Winter 2016/17 and Summer 2017). The club is currently preparing to appeal the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).

However, the ban means the club will only be allowed to renew existing players’ contracts, change coach, sell players, promote youth players and call back players from loan. They can’t however exercise buy-back clauses, which means the club will be unable to bring Jesé back – if they so desire- before the 2017/2018 winter transfer window and by then they’ll most likely have to pay a hefty price if his career has taken off.

Are they sufficiently prepared for the ban?

zizou-headacheThe real questions on every fans’ lips are:

i) Are the club really prepared for the ban?

ii) Did they reinforce the right positions? 

iii) Could they have done better to prepare themselves?

During the summer transfer window, the club signed only one player- Morata, whose buy-back clause the club exercised to bring him back from Juventus. Morata was certainly a good signing considering Los Merengues suffered in front of goal when Benzema was out injured. His signing provides the team with much needed cover in the attack. But was that the only position in the team that needed strengthening?

The defence in general is a major cause for concern

The ageing, intemperate, theatrically inclined Pepe, while still a good defender is a massive liability not only because of his theatrical and ill-disciplined behaviour on the field but he has become increasingly injury-prone in the last few seasons and will most likely fall victim to some injury that will keep him out of important games. And he isn’t the only player with injury problems either; his defensive partners are vulnerable too. Varane has faced many a injury problems- the most recent a knee injury that prevented him from participating in the European Championships with France. Then there is Ramos, who much like his Portuguese defensive partner, has had his fair share of injury problems- though not as bothersome as Pepe’s- and an allotment of disciplinary issues. And while Nacho can provide cover, he isn’t the best in the centre of defence.

A combination of injuries and disciplinary infractions could spell complete disaster for the club this season.

What about the fullback positions?

Danilo had a tough start to life at the Bernabéu and has also had a few injury set-backs but is still a relatively good defender and one could chalk his first season up to newcomer jitters- we all know the pressure players face at a club as colossal as Madrid- and the host of injuries he picked up. The right side of defence won’t be much of a problem provided Danilo finally settles in and barring a catastrophe, where both he and the exceptional Carvajal pick up long-term injuries at the same time. The left side, however poses a problem. Marcelo is the only player who suitably fills the position and while he has a lot of energy, there will come a time in the season when he either picks up an injury or Zidane wants to rest him to prevent fatigue and unnecessary injury. But who comes in for him? Coentrão will provide some cover but he seems to spend more time in the infirmary than he does out on the pitch and it’s that knack for picking up injuries that has really stunted his Madrid career and could pose a real problem on the left of defence. Admittedly, Nacho can play anywhere along the defence but again, he isn’t the best option in big games by a long shot.

Strength of the midfield and attack

The midfield is probably the most crowded yet imbalanced area for Real Madrid and one position that is lacking in depth was defensive midfield. The team needed a player who could not only complement Toni Kroos and Modric but also alleviate some of their defensive duties, something Casemiro does exceptionally well and his presence also allows Modric to push higher up the field and Toni to focus more on the attack. But what happens when the Brazilian suffers an injury? Lucas Silva’s heart anomaly has rendered him unavailable though he was scheduled to go on loan. Which therefore means the only backup available is a makeshift one- playing Toni in that position again. But as we saw under Ancelotti that brought no balance to the midfield and the team on many occasions had to rely on their ability to outscore opponents.

The likes of James, Isco, Asensio, Kovacic, Lucas Vazquez, Mariano and Morata will provide not only ample cover but also options for Zidane. The coach has options for the problems above, like promoting youth players but the pressing questions are, will they be ready and will he trust them enough?

There were areas the club needed to strengthen and they didn’t. They had the opportunity to do so in this transfer window and failed to do so- commenting (or rather lying to themselves) that “the squad was too good to improve”. This could pose a major threat to their ambitions of not only winning La Liga after four years of disappointment but also becoming the first club to defend their Champions League title since the competition was rebranded.

It was either imprudent or arrogant of them to neither sign players nor make an effort to sign players when they knew full-well that a transfer ban was looming and they may rue this missed chance.


Key areas Real Madrid needs to strengthen

laundeciLos Blancos closed out last season by lifting their 11th Champions League title against cross-town rivals, Atletico Madrid. They barely missed out on the league title to arch-rivals, Barcelona- finishing a point behind them- and was laughably thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding a suspended player – Denis Cheryshev – in the round of 32 against Cadiz.

The team for the most part last season was solid with mostly Benitez making bad decisions with personnel in the first half of the season. However, Zidane came in and made some changes, which resulted in better performances that culminated in a piece of silverware. Nonetheless, there are some key areas the team needs reinforcement to be able to compete in all five competitions (European Super Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey, Club World Cup and Champions League) this season without being too fatigued, as well as when injuries hit there will be sufficient cover.

One of those positions is in defence. The team desperately needs one [or two] new central defender(s). Pepe should no longer be an option. While he is still a relatively decent defender, who is commanding in the air and still has some pace, his theatrics are becoming preposterous and are essentially against the values of Real Madrid. Additionally, he is at times prone to mistakes and has a hot head, which ultimately leads to more blunders. There were several times, for example, in the Champions league final, where had there been a “Pepe rule” in football, he would have been sent off, thus costing his team the title. Nacho, while a decent enough player, lacks consistency and sometimes makes clumsy challenges. Thus, Ramos and Varane (despite an up-and-down season) should be the go-to central pairing with two new recruits as back up. Players who would fit the bill are:

  • Aymeric Larporte- Athletic Bilbao: Laporte is Varane’s comrade and defensive partner in the French national team. He is a strong defender, who’s good in the air and can put in a great goal-denying tackle. He’s intelligent and reads the game well. He is sometimes weak in possession and could improve that side of his game. Laporte has however, recently signed an extension to his contract, which signals he’s probably going to stay for at least another season but surely a substantial bid from Madrid would probably force Bilbao into selling.
  • Jonathan Tah- Bayer Leverkusen: Though still relatively young, Tah has displayed qualities of an experienced defender atypical to players his age, playing in the same position. He was a strong, robust and energetic presence in Leverkusen’s defence last season. Tah reads the game brilliantly which allows him to intercept the ball well and standing at 6 ft 3 makes him incredibly strong in aerial duels. He does, however need to work on his passing, as last season he had a meagre 79% pass success rate.
  • Mustafi- Valencia CF: The young German had a strong season for los Che last season and played an integral role in Germany’s Euro 2016 opener against Ukraine. He is also versatile and can play as a right back. He is a fairly strong tackler, though at times overzealous, thus leading to unnecessary fouls. He is also good in the air.
  • Marquinhos- PSG: The young Brazilian central defender, who is equally comfortable playing as a right back, is quick, strong in possession and can pick out a lovely pass. Despite standing 6 feet tall, he does have problems in aerial duels, which could pose a problem against teams that like playing down the wings.

In the centre of midfield Real Madrid needs a player who can not only complement Toni Kroos and Modric but also alleviate some of the defensive duties they have to do. Casemiro does exceptionally well in that position but in the interest of not over exhausting him an equally capable backup should be signed. The likes of Pogba and Kante have been thrown around. However, los Blancos have ruled out a move for Pogba as his asking price of €100+ million is far too exorbitant and frankly, he isn’t worth it. Kante on the other hand, had an impeccable season for Leicester and would come at a cheaper price than his country man at around ₤30 million. However, Chelsea has confirmed they have signed the French man, which leaves the following players:

  • Grzegorz Krychowiak – Sevilla: The Polish player had an impressive tournament for Poland at the European Championship and is probably the most perfect candidate for the position. He is used to La Liga and wouldn’t need any time settling. He is powerful in the air, always ready to throw himself in front of a shot, very good at reading the game and intercepting opponents’ passes and his tackling is solid. He is however at times error-prone and can improve his concentration.
  • Johannes Geis – Schalke 04: The 22-year-old German wouldn’t be a bad choice either. He is a genius when it comes to dead ball situations- although he’d probably never be allowed to strike a ball on direct set-pieces if Ronaldo has any say. He can pick out a pass: short, long, diagonal, over the top, Geis can hit them all. He is strong in possession, tenacious in tackles and is usually highly concentrated in games, thus reducing his frequency in errors.
  • Christoph Kramer – Bayer Leverkusen: He won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, where he turned in a brilliant performance in the final as Khedira’s replacement.  He is an all-round very capable player in the duties of a defensive midfielder. His passing is secure, he’s not easily distracted and seldom makes a clumsy challenge. Additionally, Kramer stands at 6 ft 2 which makes him dominant in the air.

Real Madrid has so far failed to get anything going in the transfer window –Morata being the exception- and doesn’t appear like a team with a one year transfer ban looming. Defence and central [defensive] midfield are the two key areas the club lacks depth and needs to bolster before it’s too late, which could lead to panic buying and over-paying for players.

Four players who should leave Real Madrid this summer

illara arbeloaReal Madrid kicked off their pre-season today in Australia against Roma. A game that gave us the first glance at what fans can expect under Benitez, in terms of playing style and tactics. One should avoid drawing conclusions early on, as this was merely a test match, in which the players’ main goal was to try and implement their new manager’s new strategies as well as regaining match fitness. The game, in addition to the other six up-coming friendly matches, served as a test for some of the fringe players at the club.

A few players just haven’t lived up to the billing and these friendlies will be a platform for them to make a case for their future at the club. However, there are a handful of players, who I believe have no place in this current squad and will neither augment nor diminish the quality of the squad and could either do with a season long loan or a permanent move away from the Bernabéu.

In this article, I want to look at the players I consider surplus to requirements and why I believe they need to abdicate their position as a Real Madrid player.

1. Asier Illarramendi

Here is a player I had extremely high hopes for when he was signed from Real Sociedad as the natural heir to Xabi Alonso. Illarra was so impressive at Sociedad that almost everyone was excited about his signing, as they like myself expected that form to spill over into his new team and even possibly improve upon it.

His first season, however, was understandably a difficult one as he struggled to hold down regular playing time and was in essence stifled by the strength of the midfield at the Bernabéu; the likes of Modric, Alonso, Khedira, Isco and Di María were ahead of him in the pecking order. He did, nevertheless, pick up some playing time but failed to really make an impression and had some poor performances in big games- Dortmund in the Champions League comes to mind. He evidently lost the confidence of Ancelotti with his sub-par performances.

However, I defended him that season and chalked it up to an adjustment phase, new player jitters and a lack of playing time. After all, players the likes of Zidane also had a tough first season at Madrid. Illarra, though, disappointed again the following year and even had worse performances than in the season before. For me, that was the end of defending him. He had way more mistakes on the defensive side and too many negative passes- failing to contribute to the attack. Last season, Illarramendi played in 37 games and had a 92% pass success rate- the vast majority of which were short passes to players on his left, right or just behind him. He had no assists, no goals and a meagre 0.2 shots on goal per game. In defence, he averaged less than a clearance and block per game (0.8 and 0.2 respectively); he barely won his aerial duels, completing on average 0.5 of his aerial challenges. On the bright side, however, he made an average of 1.2 tackles a game- not highly impressive but satisfactory.

Illara’s time at the Bernabéu, I think, has come to an end for the simple fact that he has failed to have any sort of impact on the team and plays with a lack of confidence that is unacceptable at a club of Real Madrid’s stature. Being a player in this team requires having assurance in one’s game, fearlessness and tenacity- all qualities Illarra has failed to exhibit and for that I believe he needs to make a permanent move away from the club.

2. Lucas Silva

The verdict is still out on Lucas Silva. He failed to earn proper playing time in his first half season at the club, which is comprehensible; he came in the winter transfer window and was an impulse buy because of the accumulating injuries in the midfield, as well as Ancelotti’s paucity of confidence in Illarra. His arrival, unfortunately, coincided with the recovery of the important midfield players. Thus, leaving him with little opportunity of playing regularly.

In the little games Silva’s been given a chance, he’s showed glimpses of his ability. Sadly for him, the return of Modric to full fitness, Isco’s, James’ and Kroos’ class, and the return of Casemiro- who had an impressive season on loan at Porto)- his chances of even earning a minute of playing time this season seems like wishful thinking at this point. Added to this, the league limits the amount of registered Non-EU players to three per team and being one of four Non-EU players in the squad- the others being James, Danilo and Casemiro- it is unlikely he’ll be kept on, as he won’t be registered to play.

The only plausible scenario for Silva is to seek a loan move to a good club to earn some game time and experience playing in Europe. A club playing in the Champions League or the Europa League would be a great choice.

3. Martin Ødegaard

The 16-year-old Ødegaard was a well sought after player last season and eventually decided to make the move to Real Madrid in the winter transfer window. He’s had a bit of a nasty attitude since his arrival in Madrid, if the reports in the media are to be believed. Ødegaard has been accused of refusing to train with Castilla. However, I find that his position is understandable because part of his deal upon moving to Madrid was for him to train with the first team but to play for Castilla. As a result of his “refusal” to train with Castilla, Zidane dropped him. In my opinion, the problem may have arisen because the coach finds it illogical for the player to be training with the first team but playing with Castilla, as he’d be unable to develop some form of chemistry with his actual teammates.

The truth is, Ødegaard is a talented player and has demonstrated that with his national team and former club. His ego coupled with his talent and experience indicates that he is also bigger than Castilla- currently playing in Spain’s third tier- and probably does deserve a go at a team playing in the first league.

Real Madrid is a different ball game and with the strength and depth at the club it is improbable that he’ll get a chance in the first team something he’ll be afforded at another club- a smaller club than Los Blancos, maybe even in a different league. The move would certainly help him improve his game and gain [much needed] experience playing in a top European league.

4. Alvaro Arbeloa

I’ve long yearned to see the back of Arbeloa, more so the day he caused Casillas’ injury which led to Diego López’s purchase, in addition to the many ills that befell Iker thereafter. My disdain aside, Arbeloa has long appeared as a forced piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is Real Madrid. He’s never really been convincing; usually making a slew of clumsy, reckless challenges that normally leads to unnecessary free kicks in dangerous areas or penalties.

The arrival of Carvajal was triumphant for Real Madrid as Arbeloa’s playing time considerably dwindled. The right side of the defence looks more capable, Dani’s contributions offensively are immense and his work rate is astronomically better when compared to that of Arbeloa’s.

Landing Danilo also means Arbeloa’s playing time will significantly dip this season and since his presence on the field hinders the team’s success, he needs to be shipped out promptly. Both Danilo and Carvajal are younger, stronger, quicker, concentrates better and are less clumsy, thus, Arbeloa getting minutes this season looks inconceivable.

What about you? Let us know if you agree or disagree. Tell us which players, if any, should leave Real Madrid this season.