The new Real Madrid: How will Los Galacticos line up this season?
[blockquote cite=”Florentino Pérez” float=”centre” align=”centre”]Contaremos con los mejores del mundo, de España y la cantera.[/blockquote]
The best in the world, the best in Spain, and the best of the cantera. That is what Florentino Pérez promised to the socios of Real Madrid in his candidacy for presidential re-election this May.
Due in part to various new rules that make it extremely difficult to run for the post, Pérez went unopposed and was elected for another term as president of the club recently determined by Forbes as the most valuable in the world.
Still in charge, but with a new coach in Carlo Ancelotti and a new sporting director in Zinedine Zidane, President Pérez has thus far made good on his vow to build a Real Madrid with the best in the world, Spain, and the cantera.
With Mourinho gone and Ancelotti and Zidane in, Madrid got a much-needed image improvement at the management level. With the signatures of Carvajal, Isco, and Illarra, it looks as if Pérez has succeeding in his attempts to change the image of Los Blancos‘ squad.
Let’s take a look at the three categories of players that align with Pérez’s vision for the future of Real Madrid:
Best in the World
Without a doubt, this list begins with Cristiano Ronaldo. Football fans worldwide will endlessly dispute Ronaldo vs. Messi, but for Florentino Pérez, Cristiano is the best player in the world. However, he’s not the only player in the team that deserves such praise.
Mesut Özil, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Marcelo, Luka Modri?, and Xabi Alonso have legitimate claims as among the best in the world in their positions. Since the very beginning of Pérez’s tenure and the Galácticos era, Real Madrid have made it a top priority to have the best in the world.
Best in Spain
Here is where the strategic shift this summer is starting to take shape. Madrid have long been criticized for employing mercenaries from abroad while their rivals in Barcelona cleaned up titles, both domestically and with the national team.
The signings of Isco Alarcón and Asier Illarramendi, two of the standouts of the UEFA U21 Championship-winning La Rojita side, prove that Pérez is serious about adding more of los mejores de España.
In recent years Madrid’s squad has included Spanish national team players Casillas, Ramos, Alonso, Álvaro Arbeloa, and Raúl Albiol, but their contribution to la selección was still overshadowed by Barcelona players.
With Isco and Illarra now in the fold, Perez is making a strong bet on the future best of Spain.
Best of the Cantera
Real Madrid’s youth academy is known as La Fábrica, and like a factory it often produces ready-made goods and sells them for profit.
But with the success of Barcelona’s La Masia in contributing to the blaugrana first team and the Spanish national side, there is pressure on Madrid to give more playing opportunities to the youngsters from their cantera.
The likes of Juan Mata and Roberto Soldado, now full Spanish internationals, once came through the ranks at Real Madrid, but were not given the chance to shine until they moved elsewhere.
With the promotion of Álvaro Morata, Jesé Rodríguez, and Nacho Fernández, along with buying back former canterano Carvajal, Madrid are showing more faith in their youth stars than in years past.
Florentino Pérez has outlined his vision and has begun pursuing it, that much is clear.
The big question mark for Real Madrid currently is how they will look under Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian has played with several different formations in his time at AC Milan, Chelsea, and PSG, and is particularly good at adapting his tactics to his best players. Below are some possible formations for 2013/2014:
A slight alteration of a 4-4-2 diamond, this formation attempts to get as many of the jugones on the field as possible. The idea is to permit all of these skilled players to occupy their preferred areas on the pitch. It allows for a lot of flexibilty and depending on the given situation, it could switch to a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-2-1 with players interchanging and switching positions throughout the game.
With Xabi Alonso recovering from a groin injury, he may not be fully fit for the opening of the season, which opens the door for Illarra to start at the base of the diamond. The former Sociedad player is a bit more mobile than Alonso and also a stronger tackler, and could hold down the area in front of the center backs, moving laterally and starting plays from deep. Modric and Isco will benefit from Illarra’s disciplined positioning and have a license to get forward as well as move into wide areas. Özil operates at the top of the diamond and can also drift out wide to the right if space in the middle gets congested.
Since Marcelo is a much better player when he has the freedom to get forward, Ramos will need to be there to cover the space behind him. Varane will slide into the center and Carvajal will be the more defensive-minded fullback. Cristiano will start on the left in his customary position but have license to roam across the final third. It will be vital for Benzema to make strong runs into the box to get on the end of balls from the many playmakers.
If they need more steel in the middle, Madrid can replace Modri? and/or Illarra with Khedira or even Casemiro, and Alonso will surely get into the mix when he’s healthy. Assuming Di María stays, he will share time with Isco but start on the right, and Özil will play as the media punta. Jesé will fight for time in there as well. Pepe will rotate in at CB with Ramos and Varane, and Arbeloa and Coentrão provide cover at the fullbacks. Finally, Morata and Higuaín, pending a possible departure, will see time in rotation with Benzema.
A slight variation on the formation above, with the ability to shift into a 4-3-3, 4-2-2-2, or even 4-2-3-1 with Özil drifting out to the right. Khedira and Casemiro can cover for any of the three center midfield positions, with Isco and Di María as subs for Ronaldo and Özil. The first choice defense remains the same. This is essentially the same lineup Madrid employed in the Champions League semi final against Dortmund, with Illarra for Khedira the only change. In order to overcome a fast counterattacking team like Dortmund, Xabi Alonso will need to be at his best, and Ronaldo and Benzema must provide the lethal finishing that was lacking in that semi final tie.
A different 11 players entirely from the two lineups above, just to show the depth of this squad currently. Several of these players may not figure into Ancelotti’s plans for the season and will be looking to move on. Even with as many games as Madrid have to play, it looks impossible to keep everyone in this locker room happy. With so many big names expecting to start in the year before the World Cup, some players will have to go elsewhere for the time they need. A few of the of the above players could be out of Madrid before the transfer window shuts.
Another variation of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, this time with seven Spaniards on the field. This starting lineup might need more defensive cover against top teams, but it would be fine in many La Liga games and should definitley be a fan favorite. Isco, Alonso, and Illarra form an all-Spanish midfield capable of competing with Barcelona’s illustrious trio. It remains to be seen, however, how Özil and Isco fit together. The German prefers to play in the middle but can drift to the right, while the Spaniard often started in the center or on the left with Málaga last season. Ronaldo also prefers the left and is untouchable, so something might have to give for those two players to work together.
The all-Iberian team, including 10 Spaniards, this formation could possibly be seen in Copa del Rey matches or against lowlier La Liga sides. This team has everything that Pérez said he wanted: the best in the world; Ronaldo, Ramos, and Casillas, the best in Spain; Isco, Illarra, and Alonso, and the best of the cantera; Morata, Jesé, Carvajal, and Nacho.
In just two months, there have been a lot of changes at the Bernabéu, with more surely still to come. Ancelotti will have to determine who he will depend on the most, and some fringe players need to be sold, but things are coming together nicely. Florentino Pérez is counting on his plan of the best in the world, Spain, and the cantera to bring the long-awaited Décima to Madrid.