Thursday, March 31, 2011

April: A Stressful Month Ahead For Madridismo

April is finally here and it’s arguably the month that will make or break Real Madrid’s season. It’s hard to believe that last time Real Madrid were treble candidates was 11 years ago and that the team is in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 7 years. Most Madridistas are excited at the prospect of watching Los Merengues play possibly every 3 days in April but, to be completely honest, the likelihood that we could all be seeing a psychotherapist or a cardiac specialist at the end of the month is not that low.
The Schedule:

2 April
Sporting Gijon
La Liga
5 April
Tottenham Hotspur
Champions League (quarter-finals): 1st leg
9/10 April
Athletic Bilbao
La Liga
Away (San Mamés)
13 April
Tottenham Hotspur
Champions League (quarter-finals): 2nd leg
Away (White Hart Lane) 
16-17 April
La Liga
20 April 
Copa del Rey final
Away (Mestalla)
23/24 April
La Liga
Away (Mestalla)
27 April 
Barcelona or Shakhtar Donetsk
Champions League (semi-finals): 1st leg
30 April or 1 May 
La Liga

There was a lot of fuss about a possible in strike in La Liga which would have postponed round 30 to June but thankfully, the issue is resolved. In April, Real Madrid have to play 9 games: 5 at the Bernabeu (4 if Spurs knocks them out of the Champions League) and 4 away. They will play 2 consecutive Clasicos and another one after 1 week if they reach the Champions League semi-final and Barcelona manage to knock Shakhtar out of the competition.

What could happen?

It wouldn’t be totally unrealistic to say that, at the end of the month, Real Madrid could win or lose every single competition they are in. In my opinion, this season is already a success: the players are actually playing as a team (which is really weird since we’re talking about Real Madrid), they have progressed in every competition and the home record is just fantastic.

If the team wins every match, the chances of it winning the competitions look great. Sadly, I just don’t see that happening. I mean, winning 3 Clasicos after losing the previous 5 ones sounds very far-fetched.

"I'm Flo Perez, I do whatever I want. Get over it."

The worse that can happen is that Real Madrid lose everything, Florentino Perez goes crazy and does something that hurts the team; this includes, but is not limited to: sacking Mourinho; selling all our players or trying to buy every football player on the planet, alive or dead.

You've been warned!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Real Madrid Player Ratings: Season So Far

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10.

  • Iker Casillas:

Our captain has been his usual reliable self. So far this season, he has conceded 28 goals and kept 25 clean sheets in all competitions. He has made some questionable decisions like his rash tackle on Jose Callejon that resulted in his sending off against Espanyol, but he has also managed some remarkable saves that helped us maintain leads and win games.

Rating: 8

  • Sergio Ramos:

Not the Sergio Ramos we have gotten used to in recent years. After coming back from the World Cup as one of Spain’s best performers, much was expected from him. To be honest, I've been disappointed in some of his performances this season. His attacking isn't as effective as it used to be, and his sense of positioning is awry following a foray forward. Gets booked for needless reckless challenges (14 yellows and 2 reds so far) & was dropped by Mourinho a few times this season. He’s been much more impressive in the games he played as a CB in. He has scored 2 goals (a penalty and a header) and is starting to look a lot better in his past few games. Let’s hope we get to see the real Ramos soon.

Rating: 6.5

  • Pepe:

A rock at the back, has contributed immensely to Real Madrid’s improved defensive record. Pepe distinguishes himself from his counterparts by his embodiment of both speed and physical prowess and there is no doubt he is one of the best center backs in the world, and this is why Perez should give him the pay raise he deserves. He has even scored a goal against Real Sociedad (deflected Cristiano’s free kick into the net). Although he has had some issues with injuries and a few forgettable and aggressive games, Pepe is in good form this season and hopefully will not let the contract talks affect his performances.

Rating: 8

  • Ricardo Carvalho:

Carvalho is in the form of his life. Although he’s 32, he can competently shore up the center defense. He’s powerful in the air, physical, combative & has superb technique. Reinforced the defense, significantly strengthened the squad and has displayed brilliant leadership skills on the pitch. He has scored 3 goals so far (including our first of the season) and is rated by many as our best summer signing. Those €8 million spent on him were nothing.

Rating: 8.5

  • Marcelo:

I always wanted Real Madrid to get rid of Marcelo but only tolerated his series of poor performances because of his age and because I hoped he would develop into someone useful for this team. This time has finally come. After an average 2009/10 season, Marcelo is having his breakout season. His tackling has drastically improved and so has his sense of positioning, but of course, he still has a lot to work on. He is paying back Mourinho’s confidence in him with defensive steel (not quite steel, but you get the point…) and terrific attacking runs.

He has scored 3 brilliant goals and assisted another 5 so far. With hard work and consistency, Marcelo will develop into the best left back in the world in a few years (he already is the best attacking fullback in the world, just needs to work on his defensive blunders).

Rating: 7.5 Overall. (Defense: 6, Attack: 8)

  • Alvaro Arbeloa:

Arbeloa’s performances this season have impressed Mourinho. As usual, pretty solid defensively but doesn't venture forward much. He scored a great goal against Ajax in the Champions League. This is what Mourinho had to say about him: "Arbeloa is the type of player that may not impress people because he is not Maradona or Zidane or another player, but when he's played he's never a 6. He is always between 7 and 9." This perfectly sums up Arbeloa as a player.

Rating: 7

  • Xabi Alonso:

The architect. He’s been a leader on the pitch. His long range passes have been second to none (he completed 58 out of his 62 attempted passes against Lyon). He sprays the ball in all directions, orchestrating the tempo of the game. He protects the back four, assists and constantly delivers dangerous set pieces. He is the fulcrum of this team. I can only think of one bad game he had this season, and that’s the one against his former team, Real Sociedad. Xabi is an indispensable player on this team.

Rating: 9

  • Sami Khedira:

Khedira was one of our summer signings. We got him for about €10 million from Stuttgart. He was said to be a good midfielder that has great stamina, a good range of passing and impressive technique on the ball. A cross between the defensive and box-to-box midfielders, he’s playing the role of the ballast in Mourinho’s system, his role is to prevent the formation from getting top heavy and ensure that the front four do not become isolated from the back six. He has great stamina.

He’s dealing well with the responsibility of shackling opposition playmakers and tracking runs from deep in order the shield the center backs from being overrun. So far, he’s been doing a decent job, nothing extraordinary; he’s still young and has a lot of time to develop into a great player. He had a great game against Atleti yesterday. I think we’ll see an improved Sami next season after he’s fully integrated with the team.

Rating: 7

  • Lassana "Lass" Diarra:

"I want to demonstrate that I can play in this team. Last year, I did not play at my best. I feel like a Madrid player and I know that with him [Mourinho] I have to fight everyday in training, because any player has his chance and that is something to take advantage of.'' This is what Lass had to say at the beginning of the season. I think he’s been doing well this season. He needs to work on his consistency though. He’s had some pretty good games. His bite in the tackle & limitless stamina make him tough for opponents, but he still makes some uncalled-for tackles in dangerous areas, which could end up hurting the team.

Rating: 6.5

  • Esteban Granero:

On the pitch, El Pirata has been level-headed and a calming influence. He is working hard for the team. He comes in to train with Castilla when the team is given days off and his intelligence and passion are well-known. In the few games he’s played this season, his passing has been sublime (he completed 50 out of the 55 he attempted against Hercules in about 70 minutes and 15/15 against Lyon), and his ball retention abilities wonderful. His work rate has been admirable and it should be noticed by anyone watching him play.

He scored the equalizer against Almeria and got us a point after coming on late in the second half. He also scored an astonishing goal against Murcia in CdR. El Pirata definitely deserves more playing time and will hopefully get some after his solid performances against Hercules and Racing.

Rating: 7.5

  • Mesut Ozil:

Ozil's €15million move to Madrid saw the club make the best signing in years. Ozil has walked off the pitch to standing ovations from the fans at the Bernabeu several times this season- a testament to his wonderful skills as a player. He manages to find his teammates on the pitch without effort, and his style and flair with the ball can be breathtaking. His control is exceptional and his creative passes can unlock any defense.

He was dealing with some fitness problems and inconsistency at the beginning of the season (couldn't manage to play a full game and faded after 70 minutes), but he has definitely improved. He has scored 10 goals, assisted 16, and created countless other scoring opportunities so far. His style of play resembles Zizou’s, and with time, Ozil can turn into a player as great as his idol.

Rating: 8.5

  • Ricardo Kaka:

After coming back from a serious injury, Kaka has failed to impress Mourinho and the fans. Madrid faithful are getting frustrated with his performances. I think Kaka's problem is that not only has he gone off the boil slightly, but it's hard to shine in team full of stars, especially when people like Cristiano are scoring goals for fun and others like Ozil are playing brilliantly.

Kaka is still a quality player, no one can doubt that. He just needs to find form again, if he'll find that at Real Madrid is another question. Would it be better to move to another club to get consistent football and become a key player in the side? I don't know, it could work for him though, and since we have 2 of the brightest young talents in world football in his position (Ozil and Canales), I think Real Madrid should cut their losses short and ship him off. This will also increase Sarabia’s chances of making it to the first team.

Rating: 5.5

  • Angel Di Maria:

Ángel was brought in from Benfica in the summer for €25 million. Lots of clubs where interested in him, but we managed to sign him. He was so highly regarded that when Simao, a talismanic Benfica captain, left the club, it was claimed that Di Maria was perfect replacement. A very skillful winger, with great dribbling skills, Di Maria has been dazzling us with his tremendous skill and pace. His work rate is fantastic – he has no problems tracking back and recovering lost balls. All he needs to do is stop diving and improve his decision-making. He sometimes lacks concentration and dwells on the ball for too long, which should improve as he gains more experience. He has scored 8 goals and assisted 18 in all competitions this season. He will be a major player in our future team.

Rating: 8

  • Cristiano Ronaldo:

A revolutionary player, a super professional, a machine. He has ambition, physicality and efficiency. His irrepressible energy, predatory instincts, passion for the game and faith in himself are the qualities that make him one of the best footballers on the planet. Shooting ability, passing accuracy, vision, pace, aerial prowess, set-play wizardry; he possesses it all.

He started out slow this season, failing to score in his first few league games, but regained top form against Deportivo where he scored a brace, and has been fantastic ever since. He has been terrorizing defenses all over Europe. He has scored 37 goals (38 according to Marca), assisted 13 (could have been a lot more if Benz wasn’t missing those easy chances at the start of the season), and is the top scorer of the team.

Even his attitude has changed this season: he has been calm, playing with a smile on his face most of the time, hasn’t been whining about referee calls not going his way, and has reduced his diving. He seems to love playing under compatriot Mourinho. He got injured after scoring a hattrick against Malaga and aggregated this injury in the derby yesterday and will be back in mid-April. Hopefully, when he comes back, we will see a fully fit Ronaldo firing on all cylinders.

Rating: 9

  • Gonzalo "Pipita" Higuain:

Before his injury, Pipita was having another great season. He scored Real Madrid’s 700th Champions League goal and had 10 goals and 3 assists in 18 games. He had cemented the poacher spot in Mourinho’s starting XI ahead of Benzema, and mastered his role: He drifts to the wings to create space for Cristiano and di Maria to drive through the middle, can hold the ball up to bring teammates into play, plays on the shoulder of the last man, which stretches the opposition defense, freeing space for the midfield to squeeze forward, and has great awareness in the box. His injury is supposed to keep him out of the field for 4 months, but his goal is to return in time for the CdR Clasico final.

Rating: 7

  • Emanuel Adebayor:

The signing of Adebayor saw Mourinho get the striker he had been wanting after Pipita’s injury (not his first choice though). Adebayor said that he already feels settled at Real Madrid. His first goal came against Sevilla in the CdR and his first league goal came in a 4-1 victory over Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu. He also scored against Racing. He’s been a decent 2nd choice striker. Real have the option to buy at the end of the season, but this relies on Adebayor’s performances which haven’t looked that sharp so far.

Rating: 6

  • Karim Benzema:

It was speculated that Benzema’s lack of form as well as poor performances were unimpressive to Mourinho and that the he could well be on his way out of Madrid in this summer’s transfer window. After Pipita’s injury, Benzema had the chance to prove he’s worthy of the White shirt, but he failed. I think he realized that he was the only real option for Mourinho since he was the only striker left on the team, and felt the pressure of having to perform week-in-week-out. The pressure of scoring goals seemed to have been thrusted upon him. His pace seemed diminished, he looked lost on the pitch, had an awful first touch, and was shorn of all the accuracy that had made him one of the most potent forwards in Europe. His confidence was shattered. One can’t help but wonder what Mourinho had to say to him after the arrival of Adebayor. He turned from zero to hero.

He has been in top form these past few weeks, netting a pivotal goal against Lyon (only 40 seconds after coming in for Adebayor in the second half), braces against Malaga, Racing Santander and Hercules, another one against Lyon in the second leg, and 1 against Atletico yesterday, taking his total tally to 21 in all competitions this season making him the team’s second top scorer.

Benzema says all this is thanks to Mourinho, but Mourinho thinks that "the main person responsible for the change is Karim himself” and says that "Zizou has worked psychologically with him several times.” If Benzema can keep this sudden gain of form going and continue to contribute with goals and assists, then he could make the summer search for a striker completely reduced to paper-talk.

Rating: 7
(Only because of his inconsistent performances in the first half of the season.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Injury Update: Cristiano Ronaldo Out For 10-15 Days! Okay, Everybody Remain Calm!

Real Madrid hosted former coach, Manuel Pellegrini, and his Andalusian side, Malaga, in a match where only one team showed up. A hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, a brace from Karim Benzema, and singular goals from Angel Di Maria and Marcelo were enough to extend their perfect home record with a 7-0 win.

That wins means that Real Madrid still has a 100% home record. Maximum points have been collected at home. However, the win still means that they trail by seven points behind a Barcelona side that came out with a 1-0 victory over Valencia the night prior to this game.

As a side note, Manuel Pellegrini admitted after the match that he had rested some of his first team players for that game because they had played on Monday, and will host Osasuna on Sunday. Apparently, he was complaining about the same thing that somebody else had complained about just some days ago, and was almost crucified for it. It really is a "hypocritical" world we live in.

However, in all the hullabaloo that was the 7-0 thrashing, Cristiano Ronaldo had to be taken off the field and into the dressing room because of an injury he sustained when he completed his hat-trick for the night.

The team's official website then came out with an announcement this morning:

"A magnetic resonance done at Sanitas La Moraleja Hospital has determined Cristiano Ronaldo has a Grade I muscle injury on the left biceps femoris muscle. The player will miss 10-15 days. His recovery is being monitored."

This new development now means that the Portuguese will definitely be out of this Sunday's clash with Racing Santander, and could even possibly miss the second leg tie against Lyon two weeks from now. Bad news.

It doesn't come as a complete shock, however, considering how many minutes he has played this season. Jose Mourinho has put so much trust in the Portuguese winger this season, that before the match against Malaga, he had played a total of 3771 minutes out of a possible 3780 minutes in this season. He also happens to have scored 43% of the team's goals.(He has scored 28 goals his season according to Marca). That's a lot for one player, and one could have easily anticipated this injury a while ago.

That said, with or without Ronaldo, the team should be able to produce results. Now Mourinho is tasked with the duty of tweaking the squad/formation a little to adapt to Ronaldo's absence.

I'd hate to be in his shoes now, but with the number of squad members on the team (25), there should be quite a few options. He could do a like for like replacement, and give Pedro Leon a shot on the wings, or move Ozil to the wings, and slot in Kaka in the middle. Or he could switch to a 4-3-2-1 formation, and play with three central midfielders and a lone striker. He could even go for a 4-2-2-2, with Adebayor and Benzema in front.

Also, Fernando Gago has been reported to be out for three weeks due to a knock he had during training. This is particularly interesting because Lassana Diarra is suspended from the trip to Racing on Sunday, and Sami Khedira is still out due to the injury he sustained against Lyon. This leaves Xabi Alonso as our only natural defensive midfielder. The team has played with at least two holding midfielders so far this season, so this could be a game were Estaban Granero will be trusted to partner Alonso.

On the whole, we will be seeing a lot of changes to the line up in the coming week. It will be interesting to see how Jose Mourinho approaches the next few games, but I do hope Ronaldo gets back in time for Lyon match. That might just be our most important match of the season.

Speaking of Ronaldo, if you're a La Fabrica enthusiast, and want to know about our future (and hopefully better) Ronaldos, read Deepak's piece on how they've fared so far.

I would also like to welcome our newest writer, Pamela. She has agreed to help us in keeping the blog active.

As always, you can follow us on Twitter: @Muna_092 , @rmcanterano and @Pamela_.

Hala Madrid!


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Impact Of Alberto Toril On Real Madrid Castilla

After Allejandro Menendez was sacked as the manager of Real Madrid Castilla, Alberto Toril the former Real Madrid Castilla and Espanyol player was promoted from the Juvenil A to coach the Real Madrid Castilla.

That move of promoting Alberto Toril seems be the one of the wisest decision the club has made in a while, and it shows with Alberto Toril stacking up 8 wins in 8 matches.

Alberto Toril having worked with and led Pablo Sarabia, Alvaro Morata, Alex Fernandez and Daniel Carvajal to a triplet with Juvenil A, constructed the squad around them and relegated players like Pablo Gil, Raul Goni, Mandi and Raul Ruiz who were signed from other clubs by Allejandro Menendez to the bench.

Alberto Toril even promoted Victor Merchan and Denis Cheryshev to the Real Madrid Castilla, and also brings 17 year old Jese Rodriguez—who is tipped as a great talent who's style is considered a mixture of both the Ronaldos (R9 & CR7), to the Castilla sometimes for a few appearances.

The philosophy of Alberto Toril is clear, he doesn't only want to win, he wants to win in style, which is clearly visible in his last interview to after defeating Cacereño 2-0 in the last game at home. He said:
"Estoy contento con el resultado, pero hemos perdido el estilo de partidos anteriores y hay que recuperarlo."
Which loosely translates to:
"I'm happy with the result, but we lost the style of previous games and we have to recover."
People who follow me on Twitter, know that I am a self confessed Alberto Toril fan, and why shouldn't I be? The man transformed Real Madrid Castilla from a mediocre mid-table team which was rotting away in tenth, eleventh or twelfth position to a team, which is not only sitting pretty in promotion play-off places but is also looking like a prime promotion candidate.

Here's a few stats to show the magnitude of the good work Alberto Toril has done for Real Madrid Castilla since taking over.

Attacking Flair With Defensive Stability

When Alberto Toril managed only his second game, which they won 5-0; the official Real Madrid site had a line which made me chuckle, "Castilla becomes friends with the clean sheet again."

Under Menendez, the Castilla managed to score 21 goals in 19 matches where they failed to score in 7 matches. The Castilla of Alberto Toril has already outscored the Castilla of Allejandro Menendez; playing 11 fewer games, they have scored 27 goals in 8 matches.

The biggest improvement under Toril isn't the free-flowing attack, but the rock solid defense. Under Menendez, the Castilla conceded 24 goals in 19 matches and kept only 6 clean sheets (2 of them are from 0-0 draws), while under Toril the Castilla has conceded a mere 3 goals in 8 games, and have kept 5 clean sheets in 8 games, which is just one less than what Menendez managed in 19 games.

Away Games: From Toothless To Ruthless

Real Madrid Castilla under Allejandro Menendez won only 1 of their 9 away games, and drew 2 games, collecting just 5 points out of a possible 27. Under Alberto Toril, Real Madrid Castilla won 4 of their 4 away games, collecting all 12 points.

Under Allejandro Menendez, Real Madrid Castilla managed to score only 5 away goals and failed to score in 5 of their 9 away games. The turnaround in fortunes was visible from the first game as Alberto Toril's whose first game in charge was an away game to Coruxo which the Castilla won 4-1. Since then Alberto Toril's team has scored 10 goals, and have scored in every away match.

The defensive ability away from home has improved under Toril as well. Under Menendez, the Castilla conceded 14 goals in 9 games and could only manage to shut out their opponents 3 times (out of which 2 games were 0-0 draws). While under Toril, the Castilla has conceded only 1 goal in 4 games, shutting out the opposition 3 times.

Home Games: Strengthening The Fortress

Under Allejandro Menendez, the only source of points on the board for Real Madrid Castilla was home games, and despite that the home record under Menendez isn't even close to impressive, collecting just 19 from a possible 30.

In the 10 home games that Allejandro Menendez managed, Real Madrid Castilla only managed to stack up 6 wins, drawing 1 and losing 3. While Alberto Toril has managed 4 and won all of them.

The most shocking stat at home is that under Allejandro Menendez, the Castilla only scored 16 goals (failing to score on two occasions) in 10 games which is 1 less than what the Castilla has managed in just 4 games (17 goals) under Toril.

Despite Alberto Toril setting out a more attack minded team compared to Allejandro Menendez, Castilla under Toril has conceded only 2 goals (0.5 goals conceded per game) at home keeping 2 clean sheets in the process, while under Menendez the Castilla leaked goals at the rate of 1 goal per game, conceding 10 goals in 10 games, and kept only 3 clean sheets.


The change in fortune is all due to the fact that Toril promoted players from within the academy instead of signing players from other clubs like Menendez did. I have pointed it out time and again that this generation of La Fabrica which includes Carvajal, Alex, Sarabia, Morata and Jese is one of the most talented generations to come out from La Fabrica in a while, Toril having worked with them, realizes that and that's why Real Madrid Castilla is now finally playing to it's full potential.

Due to the recent results the canteranos of La Fabrica are getting noticed by everyone. And by everyone I do mean everyone, many scouts from big and small English clubs and other Spanish clubs have been spotted watching the Castilla games.

Not only this, Alvaro Morata is finally scoring the goals that Jose Mourinho ordered him to score during the winter break to get into the first team, and is now "being promised" a spot in the first team at the start of next season by Jose Mourinho. Although I still doubt the "promise" of Jose Mourinho. But on the other hand Mou is speaking about him, that means Moratito is finally grabbing his attention.

Although it may be a little to early to say, but I think with his philosophy of 'not just winning but winning with style' and ability to bond with the players (like Alex Fernandez said in his interview), Alberto Toril might just become the manager of Real Madrid's first team in the future. Boy, I sure hope so.

Hala Madrid!


Related Posts with Thumbnails