Clubs, Real Madrid

Ramos rallies Real against Atletico

There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Real Madrid had been the better team than Atletico in the first leg of their Champions league matchup. They truly came out of the tunnel firing on all cylinders, and had a load of chances – one of which Bale (at his price tag and skill level) should have finished. That said, Atletico stayed true to their gritty nature, pulling off a defensive victory to grab the draw. Lucky for them, going into this second leg, they knew that a 1-1 draw would be enough to secure the victory, and they also knew that Modric and Bale were unable to play due to injury.The stars aligned in their favor, and going into this game I really expected them, with their experience and tenacity, to come through with a victory.

At the same time, visions of the future had me second-guessing myself: It’s so easy to imagine Cristiano bagging a brace, being the hero, and moving onto the next round. That being said, this would require that Jese and Isco (Bale & Modric replacements), come into the team and play like experienced veterans – and that Javier Hernandez uses his outstanding work rate to makeup for the skills that he doesn’t have (and that Benzema does have) … And to be honest, that’s what I thought would be most interesting about this game — even more than the Cristiano vs. Juanfran battle – which is always an awesome match. But then…. I saw the starting lineup… Javier Hernandez up front with Ronaldo, with James, Kroos, Isco, and of all people, Sergio Ramos all playing behind them… The back four was a bit more normal, with Pepe replacing the midfield Ramos, but I didn’t know what to expect from this lineup… and I was really surprised that for the most part, it worked.

Real’s lineup was a cautious one, but smart one, Hernandez had a decent chance but miss kicked it in the first ten minutes. And then at one point he flicked a nice pass to Ronaldo, who kicked it wide with his left foot. He also squandered a chance towards the end of the first half, but as we all know — he later made up for it with an awesome assist.

Throughout the game, Sergio Ramos really controlled the tempo from midfield – he Chicharito Champions League goal
possessed the technique and passing to keep up with the midfield teammates around him, and he played well under-pressure from the Atletico midfield. I truly think that he won the game for them – I mean… he also drew the red card that completely turned the tide for Real. It seemed as though the red card gave Real the confidence to attack and use the space available to them, and the one-two that Ronaldo played with Carvajal was truly representative of that. That being said, Chicharito deserves so much praise for his effort,  not because he scored the winning goal, but because he kept up with the always fit-as-a-whistle Ronaldo, and his positioning was outstanding. He’s truly the unsung hero that probably won’t get as much credit as he deserves for his performance, because at the end of the day, Real is Ronaldo’s club (and he always gets the credit).

Real Madrid CelebratingBack to Ramos: As a midfielder he reminded me of Xabi Alonso, only a fitter, more and more dominating Xabi Alonso. He’s one of the feistiest players in the world, and it looked like he loved being in the thick of the action at midfield. He won so many aerial battles, and though he isn’t as gifted as a passer as Kroos, James or Modric, he can certainly hold his own.

Moving forward though, Real must continue to win with like this… It’s not going to be easy without Bale, Benzema or Modric and this game could have easily gone either way. Whereas Barcelona can win it all through their chemistry as a unit, Real’s injuries put them in a very different position to the one that they were in last year: they must win through adapting: And Carlo Ancelotti understands that – thus the risk of using Ramos at midfield. I trust that Ancelotti has the the brains to continue to put together on-the-fly starting lineups, but I sincerely doubt today’s Real Madrid, could beat Barcelona or Bayern in their current form.

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Ballon D’or: Victorious Cristiano and the ceremony’s lack of recognition for other players

Without a shadow of a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo deserved the Ballon D’or for his efforts this Cristiano Ballon D'or 2014past year – everyone knows that, except there is one issue that grinds my nerves: there is so much bias in the footballing world, and the media plays such a huge role in both that, and in picking the winner, that the true meaning and expectation of a Ballon D’or is somewhat screwed up. What I mean by that is this: There is no science to how the Ballon D’or winner is selected, and while I suppose there can’t be, it still hurts me to see how much of an affect an individual’s goal scoring record, media attention, and media speculation can affect the outcome… There is so much emphasis put on the La Liga title race, the feud between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate, that much of the world forgets about other players, and leagues (and how effing competitive the Bundesliga and Premier league are).

Let me put it to you this way, if I were to decide on the top three best players in the world last year shortlist, I would no doubt put Diego Costa and/or Toni Kroos on that list (and probably take out Messi)…  Costa won La Liga last year, lead his team to the Champions Cup final, and scored a hell of a lot of goals. Kroos won the Bundesliga and the German league with Bayern, and the World Cup with Germany. And,  as we all know, Messi didn’t win anything, but he did make it to the finals in the World Cup (and scored a lot of goals last year)… As well all know, Cristiano won the Champions league, the Spanish Cup final (which he didn’t play in), and scored a hell of a lot of goals.

The question that remains though, is this: how do you set yourself apart from the rest of the pack when you’re not in a position to score a lot of goals? Clearly it’s not win? Because, if you win, the guy that scores all the goals is still going to be crowned the Ballon D’or Champion. It’s kind of messed up, isn’t it?

I’m of the opinion that too many players aren’t garnering the love, respect and admiration that they deserve in this age of football. Unless you possess the flash, flair, goals, and more importantly: the media intrigue, you will never really be crowned the best player in the world. Again, let me reiterate, I think Cristiano deserved it this year, but there needs to be new metrics for measuring the success of and impact of other players on the field like the midfielders and defenders in the world, and how they contribute to the success of everyone around them. It’s sad that over the last couple years, the media has dramatized a feud between Messi and Ronaldo, rather than marveled at the fact that Manuel Neuer revolutionized his position, becoming the first of his kind as a sweeper keeper.

All that being said, I could be completely wrong on this Ballon D’or debate. In other words: perhaps Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in fact just that much better than everyone else in the world and perhaps historically it’s been an award that’s given to attackers — But, if that’s the case, then they should have a best player award for each position, and I don’t mean individual position, I mean one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and one attacker. Fifa, the media, and the world would eat up the intrigue involved in three separate awards. Furthermore, players like Neuer, Kroos, and Lahm would get the recognition that they truly deserve.

Such a system would motivate younger kids to be the “best defender in the world,” rather than have a whole generation of young players obsessed with being on the pitch as attackers – which would be awesome, because I don’t think their are that many pure defenders anymore, something I discussed this blog post about Carlos Puyol last year.

Anyways, let me know if you agree through taking part in the poll below 🙂

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Clubs, Real Madrid

Why sell an Angel?

A couple months ago I wrote an article with a poll question that asked readers who Di Maria pic for blogthey thought to be Real’s most valuable player this past year, obviously Cristiano Ronaldo won, but, Angel Di Maria ran away with second place – you can check out that article and poll question here.

Anyways, this brings me to the point of this article, and a question – why in the world is Angel Di Maria so undervalued by Real Madrid? I angrily ask this question because I think he’s been so integral to Real’s success this year. Not only did his run against Atletico set up Gareth Bale’s game winning header in the Champions Cup final, but, Di Maria also proved invaluable to the successes of Argentina at this past summer’s World Cup. He’s truly been solid all year, and I think he deserves much more respect and praise than he’s been given.

Di Maria and RonaldoFurthermore, why would Real sell a player that Cristiano told them to keep last summer? Clearly then, Ronaldo knew of how talented Di Maria was then, and that he could blossom even more over this past year…. It seems ridiculous that Real would sell him after such great form last year. When assessing Real’s transfers this past summer, I’m of the opinion that Di Maria is far more talented than James Rodríguez. I understand that James performed well at the World Cup, but I don’t believe that that merits Di Maria’s starting role. While I do think that it would be terrible for James not to start for Real this year, I also think that if I had to make a choice between Di Maria and James, I would pick Di Maria in a heartbeat, especially as he’s already used to King Carlo’s system of play.

With that said, if Real do sell him to PSG or Man United, and they don’t have a great campaign this year, Real’s management will take more slack than they would if they decided not to sell him. Moreover, I find it truly bothersome when the forces that be (management) take something that works, and try to make it better; in the footballing world management should adhere to this one old adage,  if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (or attempt to make it better)…

But back to Di Maria… His importance goes way beyond just his talent… He’s proven Messi and Di Mariahis ability to play well with the two best players in the world, with Ronaldo on Real, and Messi on Argentina. And, more importantly, he’s won their respect – which is an extremely difficult thing to do considering their God-like standard of play. The footballing gods that they are, have played well with their Angel, and Real’s management need to respect him more than they are by squashing transfer rumors and not even letting them begin.

From Di Maria’s perspective, I understand his desire to leave Real… I would also want to leave if my club’s management didn’t appreciate my efforts. Plus, considering that he’s at the pinnacle of his career, it’d make sense for him financially to make a big money move to a club like PSG and cash out… especially as his salary isn’t even remotely close to that of Gareth Bale’s.. Di Maria makes 3 million euros to Bale’s annual haul of 10 million… Which to me seem very ridiculous.

In review, it makes sense for Di Maria to want to leave, but, it doesn’t make sense for Real to want to sell him. Let me know in the comments section if you agree with my assessments or not!

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Clubs, Real Madrid

James Rodríguez will work well with Ronaldo, and be a huge success

James Rodríguez is an interesting signing for Real Madrid, he’s a playmaker – as proven by his time at Monoco, James Rodríguez pic for blogand he’s also a goal scorer – as proven by his World Cup performances. It’s difficult to assess where a player like him fits on a Real team with multiple playmakers… they just purchased Kroos, they already have Modric and Isco, and Di Maria for all intents and purposes plays an attacking playmaker role behind Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo. So where does a player like James Rodríguez fit in?

To answer that question let’s first assess the situation from Rodríguez’s perspective/point of view: after a world cup performance like his, he deserves not only a big money transfer (which he got), but also to start for the team that bought him. His mouth is probably watering at the prospect of playing with Real’s world class stars. He knows as well as anyone that this team is Ronaldo’s, and not his. He knows he must be humble, and work hard as he a smart young kid. But, in knowing that, he’s also aware that he will not have the limelight centered on him in the same way that it was at the World Cup (and for a very long time).

James Rodríguez pic 2 for blogFrom my perspective, James Rodríguez is not the kind of player that is going to get better sitting on the Real Madrid bench – he has a lot of potential to improve, but only through playing with his teammates and growing with them. Right now, he is only 23 years of age, he needs to be in the starting 11 to get a feel for his teammates and learn how they work around him on the pitch, and he must adjust to their movements and not the other way around: He is joining a team that found a lot of success last year, his job will be to figure out how he fits into Real’s current playing style; when Ronaldo transferred over to Real, the team was set with the objective to fit around him – this will not be the case for Rodríguez, as he will be left using his own ingenuity and smarts to gain respect on the pitch from his teammates.

Continuing on the above points: James Rodríguez can and will succeed at Real, but only if he starts immediatelyJames Rodríguez crying pic for blog – He knows as well as anyone that this Real Madrid squad is not his team, but that it’s Ronaldo’s, and considering his awareness of this situation (and his talent, I’m sure he can adjust to playing with him, and the rest of the squad). James is undoubtedly in one of the best situations ever, especially being that the talent surrounding him is at an extremely high – they will give him an opportunity to play well, but he can’t be content with a role off the bench, and I don’t think he would be… Rodríguez, like Ronaldo, is a competitor, sure he just received a massive paycheck to play for Real, but clearly that’s not what drives him to win.

Ronaldo crying pic for blogHe will find success because he plays with a heart and a desire similar to Ronaldo. I think that it’s a genuine display of drive, heart, and also a love for the sport when players cry. It’s a sign of how much the competition means to them – James cried at this past summer’s world cup, just as Ronaldo did back at Euro 2004 after being knocked out. Both of these players will learn to respect one another through their competitive natures and ultimately through this, James will be a great success at Real – but he must start!

I don’t know where he will start, but I only see Di Maria’s current role as a great fit for him. I suppose we’ll see how King Ancelotti figures him into his plans. For Ancelotti, it can’t hurt having so many insanely talented players… Unless, of course, you lose many competitions with them…

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Real Madrid going for a Kroos

Kroos pic for blogToni Kroos’ transfer to Real Madrid makes perfect sense; he is an extremely adaptable and balanced player, two attributes (along with many others) that make him a complete midfielder. What I mean by “complete” is that he can fit into any tactical scheme.  At Bayern over the past couple seasons he got used to a system that emphasized speedy attacks emanating from the wings. He manhandled the midfield and distribute the ball to the likes of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery, (two worldclass wingers) that benefited greatly from his vision, tenacity and calm. Also at this past summer’s World Cup he fit into Germany’s tactical alignment,  playing a style of football that slowly grew attacks through fluid short passing. In other words, he can do it all…. Except one thing, but I’ll get to that later…

Aside from being a complete midfielder, he’s also a winner. Kroos already has German league titles, a Champions League victory and a World Cup under his belt.  Not only is he used to big competition, but he’s used to winning them. Moreover, he’s pretty smart too: he left Bayern at a perfect time: their team, although outstanding, is getting older… Who knows how long Ribery (31), Robben (30) and Schweinsteiger (about to turn 30) will last?

On the other hand – Real’s Benzema is 26, Di Maria is 26, and Bale only just turned 25 (all of them about to hit the peak of their careers). And then, there’s also Ronaldo, a player who is at the peak of his career. Furthermore, when you look at their defense, Ramos is 28, Marcelo 26, Carvajal 22, and Varane only 21… Real Madrid have a young team that’s already gelled together quite a bit, and when you add the adaptable Kroos into the mix, their team only gets better.

Real Madrid pic for blog

The most interesting aspect of his transfer will be finding out how Carlo Ancelotti fits him into his current lineup. In my opinion, he’ll replace Xabi Alonso, and learn to play a slightly deeper role than he’s used to. If not, then I would imagine he’d split time with Modric, or, if Real Madrid do end up selling Di Maria, he would take his attacking midfield role.

Now, here’s the issue with this, Kroos can do it all except one thing: have the ability and flair to dribble the ball with speed past defenders whereas Di Maria is masterful at this.  Di Maria has been incredible in the attacking mid position right behind the front three BBC… So, if Acelotti truly wants to use the same system that he did last year that brought him so much success, then it would be to his benefit to use Kroos in either Modric’s box-to-box role, or Alonso’s role in front of the back four.

In my opinion, Kroos will be a great fit if played in the right position. He’s a great replacement for Alonso, and will be a mainstay in the Real side for years to come.

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Real Madrid

Real Madrid finally got it right… La Decima… And Ronaldo can get his third Ballon D’or


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Real Madrid finally found a suitable formula this year, and it’s been so unconventional that it’s somehow become practical… To start, Carlo Ancelotti has been exactly what Ronaldo’s needed, a manager with a calm demeanor that has never gotten too full of himself to take away the spotlight from his number 9. And, the other thing that they got right – Gareth Bale – a player that shines in big games where Ronaldo does not…

Whereas Ronaldo seems intimidated and swept away by being on center stage (despite the fact that he loves to be there) during huge matches, it seems Gareth Bale is intrepid and thrives off it. He veins are ice cold and he never seems taken aback by the fierceness that comes with a big match.

… Back to Ancelotti, his starting lineup this year draws some comparisons to Barcelona’s over the better part of the past decade… Di Maria acts like Iniesta, weaving his way through defenders from center midfield to help start attacks, and sometimes finish them. Modric is like Xavi, he can make the right passes and knows when to join the attack and stay back with Alonso. And, Xabi Alonso (who I believe has been their most solid player this year, despite his somewhat long injury absence this campaign) is a jewel in front of Ramos and Pepe – his positioning, attentiveness, and awareness are absolutely outstanding. Let me put it this way, Sergio Busquets (who plays a similar role with Barca, and I think is massively overrated) has nothing on Xabi Alonso…

Let me repeat myself, Real Madrid finally got it right – and this has huge ramifications on their fiercest rival and counterpart Barcelona, specifically, their gem, Leo Messi. Real has a team that’s young enough to shine for at least the next five years. Barcelona’s needs a complete overhaul, Xavi should not start anymore (Barca can’t run their attack through him anymore), they need someone with more attacking pop. In other words, they need to transition to a system of attack with faster buildup… Neymar doesn’t thrive in a system that appreciates possession like Barca’s, in fact, I’d venture as far to say that if Neymar were to be on Real, and Bale on Barca, Neymar would have excelled just as much (if not even more) this year. Furthermore, Messi is only 26 years old, he needs to be part of an attack that emphasizes speed, and some semblance of the counterattack, instead of a pure possession. I know these guys are all long shots, but Barca need to buy someone like Reus, Lucas, Bernard, or Julian Draxler… and they never should have let Thiago move to Bayern… But let’s move on… Real Madrid’s success this year has huge consequences on the football world… Specifically on Leo Messi…

First of all, Ronaldo is probably the happiest man alive at the moment… He knows better than anyone whatRonaldo Pic the Le Decima means… yes, that’s right, another Ballon D’or… Which of course can be solidified with a great performance at this summer’s World Cup… The only thing standing in his way, and perhaps his worst nightmare, would be for Argentina to lift the World Cup. That said though, I do believe that if Diego Costa shines this summer, he could also be a huge contender for the Ballon D’or next year as well… But anyway…

Ronaldo’s stats this past campaign have been nothing short of miraculous, 51 goals in 47 appearances vs. Messi’s 41 goals in 46 appearances (in all competitions)… Ronaldo scored 17 of those goals in the Champions league alone, a record that he now holds over Messi. Here’s the interesting part that needs to be emphasized: For the first time in forever Ronaldo is holding his own destiny in his hands… In other words, this year will not be one where he has to wait for Messi to slip-up or get injured in order to get crowned his third Ballon D’or, but rather he must maintain his current form to reach that success – and all signs point to him doing just that.

Bale PicThe additions of Carlo Ancelotti and Gareth Bale couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in Ronaldo’s career, and they couldn’t be more perfect fits. As previously stated, Ancelotti is calm, and he lets the players be themselves – unlike Mourinho, Ancelotti could give two damns how vain his players are and how often they stare at themselves in the mirror. In addition, Mourinho gives off a sense of knowing better than anyone and everyone else, Ancelotti does not – and this does wonders in the Real Madrid dressing room… this allows them to focus on one and only task – winning football matches… In other words, when you have players like those on Real, that already possess swagger, you don’t perpetuate or challenge their sense of entitlement with a manager that has more swagger (Mourinho), and that, my friends, is why Ancelotti was successful this year – he let the players be themselves, he treated them like adults, and he listened to them rather than assuming he knew better than them. No better example is when Real wanted to sell off Di Maria with the idea that it would help finance the purchase of Bale… Ronaldo requested that Di Maria stay and Ancelotti (and Perez) listened… and now Di Maria is a starter.

Ancelotti is a magician, he didn’t show any excitement or get ahead of himself when Bale scored the tying goal against Atlético Madrid this past weekend… he remained calm and collected, and because of that, so did his team… 

Now, only two questions remain: who do you believe has been Real’s most valuable player this campaign? … And at which position should Real Madrid strengthen this summer?  Take a second to answer the poll questions below and in the comments section please let me know which player (at the position you answered in the poll question) should be bought.

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