Real Madrid completed a routine 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Audi cup on Tuesday. James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale were the scorers in a low tempo match.
The friendly brought more questions than answers. Here are the main talking points:
1. How much freedom can Bale get?
Its been mentioned many times before; I will mention it again. Gareth Bale is going to have a central role in this new Real Madrid. Central in multiple senses of the word. Not only will he be given a more important role, Bale might end up playing as a central attacking midfielder. As a ‘CAM’ if you will. That was the role in which he succeeded for Tottenham, and Bale reinforced his desire to play there this season. Giving Bale freedom to roam the wings, and attack the center of defense could be extremely fruitful. Utopic. On the surface it seems to be obvious- grant Bale his wish.
Look further into that tactical ploy, and the curtains come unravelling.
There is no doubt that over the past 5 seasons Real Madrid was based on the goalscoring brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s role was pivotal and his supporting cast’s even more so. Particularly during the days of his relentless wing play, Ronaldo was given the tactical freedom to do what was necessary to score goals. The left wing was his. The rest of the side adapted to help his output.
Even last season Ronaldo the center forward was given the license to operate how he liked, just as a relatively efficient poacher. The 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League showcased his importance and role in the side.
The problems start when you consider giving Ronaldo and Bale freedom to operate. Any manager or tactician will tell you that giving 2 players such freedom and flexibility is tactical suicide. Why? Most systems depend on having at least 10 players under some sort of control or responsibility, and 2 free souls could be counter productive. Nobody wants a self invited mess. There are many disadvantages to this, but more on that later. All you need to know is that it is taboo in Football.
Even at Barcelona, the only player allowed to roam was Lionel Messi. His partners in crime, Neymar and Suarez were still given strictly defined roles on the left and center of the forward line respectively. But they played their roles to perfection. After all those positions played to their strenghts.
Of course, as mentioned in other analysis, if Benitez’s interchangeable front 4 is the solution to all this, then all is well at the Bernabeu. If not, Florentino Perez could be in the market for a new manager in 6 months. Rafa is not one to be underestimated though.
On a more positive note, among the more interesting aspects of the friendly at the Allianz Arena was Real Madrid’s formation (yes, the match was that dead). Lining up in a Carlo Ancelotti-esque 4-4-2, one could mistake this for last year’s side.
The lineup was atypical of yesteryear Los Blancos. The midfield had a Kroos-Modric pivot. Isco and James started out wide. Jese and Bale lined up in front. Likely a tactical experiment, Rafa might have testing all the fuss surrounding Ancelotti’s famed 4-4-2. The 4-4-2. The same one that beat Barcelona, Liverpool (ok, maybe that isn’t that impressive) and Atletico Madrid last year. Its still preseason, so conclusions cannot be drawn.
One thing is for sure. Being able to play well in 2 different, enterprising formations might just be crucial in the Champions League. Even Atletico Madrid are planning the same this season.
3. Can you leave Isco and co on the bench?
In a brighter moment of the match, Isco set up James Rodriguez for a beautiful goal. How can a team have a player like Isco on the bench? It simply doesn’t seem fair. Isco’s performances in preseason have been great (Not that James’ play has been undermining, of course. Two sublime goals at the time of writing speak for themselves).
Life, or football rather, is not always fair. Another explosive talent in Jese also looked ready to explode on the biggest stage. Almost. Jese’s electric pace and connection with Madridistas might earn him more starts, but he remains another great talent who deserves more playing time.
Such a packed squad has room… for sales. Denis Cheryshev is being linked with Liverpool as I type, with 20 million pounds being put on the table. The primary argument against this is there for anyone to see. If Raheem Sterling costs 49 million pounds after an undermining season at Liverpool, why should this Russian talent go for such a low price?
Talent is at a premium. If only Real Madrid can make effective use of so much surplus talent.