Archive for the ‘Real Madrid’ Category

Paris St Germain's Patore celebrates with team mates after scoring the third goal for the team during their Champions League quarter-final first leg soccer match against Chelsea at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

Devang Desai and Richard Whittall sit down to discuss the U.S – Mexico friendly, this week’s Champions League action and Jose Mourinho’s striker problem.

You can download the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here. You can also find the RSS Feed here.

Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against St Etienne during their French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

Devang Desai, Richard Whittall, James Bigg and Gianluca Nesci sit down to talk about the Champions League quarterfinal draw. Can Manchester United channel the magic of 1999, Borussia Dortmund look to do the impossible and who is the favorite to win it all — all this and more in the latest edition of the Counter Attack Podcast!

You can download the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here. You can also find the RSS Feed here.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo kicks the ball past Schalke 04's Joel Matip during their Champions League last 16 second leg soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium

Last night, Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Schalke at the Bernebeu during the second leg round of 16 match in the 74th minute of play with an impressive solo run. Schalke had conceded a billion goals in the first leg, but were tied 1-1 away from home. So it would be tempting to put down Ronaldo’s goal to Schalke’s defensive incompetence.

Indeed, seemingly every time a good player scores a lovely goal, it sparks an impromptu debate about whether the goal was the result of the skill of the attacking player, or the poor defense of the conceding team. These debates always seem spurious to me, in part because both attacking and defending involves a complex interplay of action and reaction to player ability, the random circumstances of the play, the positioning of the play, and lucky or unlucky bounces or deflections. But as we’ll see, while there is evidence Schalke could have done better, we can still see clearly the incredible skill of players like Bale and CR7.

Let’s go back to the beginning (always the most interesting part, to me).

Real Madrid:Schalke 03:18:2014 SS1

The image above shows Schalke left back Sead Kolasinac in possession. He’s made a few passes that were returned, and he’s been in stationary for a few moments, long enough perhaps for his team to move forward in numbers, but also for Ronaldo, to his immediate right, to start to close down. Meanwhile Kolasinac’s team-mate Kaan Ayhan is strolling into space a little further out to provide another passing option.

Real Madrid:Schalke 03:18:2014 SS2

And now, a fatal mistake. With Ronaldo approaching Kolasinac passes to Ayhad, Ayhad has moved too far back toward the halfway line and Kolasinac doesn’t judge the pass properly. It’s hard to get across through some still images, but Bale’s preternatural movement in reaction to the opportunity to pick up the ball is remarkable. He sees the error and reacts in a mind-boggling short period of time…

Real Madrid:Schalke 03:18:2014 SS3

…and Bale’s touch immediately puts him past Ayhad into free space. Ronaldo is with him to his right. So Schalke have given up possession in the last part of the pitch you want to do that—near the centre circle while your team in the attacking phase. Not only that, but they’ve given it up to Madrid’s second best player.

Real Madrid:Schalke 03:18:2014 SS4

Here, Bale has run at full speed, practically directly at Schalke’s Greek centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos. It’s too fast for Papadapoulos to do much, but he at least manages to flick the ball off the feet of Bale…right into the path of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ho boy.

Real Madrid:Schalke 03:18:2014 SS5

Here Papadapoulos tries to make up for his error by checking Ronaldo, but the Portuguese winger is so good on the ball, and so strong, Papadapoulos practically bounces off his body.

Real Madrid:Schalke 03:18:2014 SS6

And then the key moment, which you’re probably better off watching as part of this looped vid. Ronaldo becomes Joel Matip’s responsibility, but it’s hard to see what more he could have done outside of sliding to block his shot at the final moment. Ronaldo feints to the right and then enters the 18 yard box. While many players would take a split second longer to get an ideal body shape, Ronaldo’s upper body strength and accurate placement is such that he can set up his shot, almost bent over, before Matip knows what is happening. Not only that but he scores on the short side, to keeper Ralf Fährmann’s left side.

So, could Schalke have done better in defense? Yes. Does that negate the incredible skill of both Bale and Ronaldo in reacting quickly to take advantage of the situation? No. It’s a dance. One shouldn’t assume there aren’t moments to admire in great goals scored against less than stellar defenses, or against teams having an off night.


Karim Benzema underwent a metamorphosis at Real Madrid. “I’m not a cat any more, now I’m a lion,” he said after scoring the opener in a 2-1 win over Atletico back in March, 2011. It was the France international’s 12th goal of the calendar year.

Gone were the days when he used to pussy foot around the penalty area. Now Benzema bounded across the pitch at the Bernabeu and beyond as though on the savannah, losing the meoux and finding his roar. Behind this feat of feline transformation was coach Jose Mourinho.

For a time, it seemed there really was no limit to what this man could do. “I’m not Harry Potter,” he likes to say. Give over, Jose. Turn a cat into a lion? That’s no problem for il Mago. And besides, it was a trick he had to pull.

Over the winter his dog, Gonzalo Higuain, had just been ruled out for the spring after suffering a slipped disc. “If I can’t hunt with a dog, I will hunt with a cat,” Mourinho said. “With a dog you hunt more and you hunt better. But if you have not got a dog and you have got a cat, you hunt with a cat.”

The cat was Benzema of course. With a poke of the stick, Mourinho stirred the beast inside of him. Remember he’d considered changing the time at which Real trained because Benzema arrived “at 10 o’clock half asleep and then by 11” was “already sleeping again.”

With his pride hurt, this big cat began to show the claws he’d displayed at Lyon again. Benzema ended the season with 26 goals and scored another 32 the next as Real overcame Barcelona to win La Liga.

But then, certainly towards the end of the last campaign, the spell appeared to wear off a bit. The lion was gradually becoming a cat again. Though Benzema managed to score 20 goals, he seemed to suffer like many of his teammates did throughout Mourinho’s fractious final season.

His goal-to-game ratio fell by 30% to 0.41, down from 0.62 per match the previous campaign. Benzema was often played out on the flank, substituted, or left on the bench, losing the continuity which all great strikers require.

All the while – actually much much before – Benzema’s form for France has been a cause for concern back home. He hasn’t scored in 1155 minutes for Les Bleus. His last goals for his country came in a 4-0 win against Estonia in Mans over a year ago. It’s a worry.

So what happened?

Let’s break his senior international career up into two phases. Interestingly, 11 of Benzema’s 15 goals for his country came in the 32 caps he received between 2007 and 2010. Since then in his other 27 appearances, he has, to cite the analysis of Jean Pierre-Papin, “become more of a playmaker [for France] than a finisher.” There have been twice as many assists as goals: eight to four.

On the one hand, this is a virtue and speaks of Benzema’s all-round forward play. “His palette is extremely large,” wrote Bixente Lizarazu in L’Equipe. “He can dribble, play the final pass, put himself about… He knows how to do everything. Score too, but without hanging around the penalty area.”

On the other hand, France need Benzema to score. They have run dry in each of their last four matches, which were defeats to Spain, Brazil, Uruguay and a stalemate with Belgium. It’s now been 389 minutes since they found the back of the net, the longest goal drought since the last one between July 1986 and April 1987.

And yet France have a striker in Benzema with a reputation as one of the best in the world. Deserved or not, most people will agree Benzema is in possession of potential without equal among his nation’s other strikers: Olivier Giroud, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Bafetimbi Gomis and Loic Remy. That’s what makes his travails in front of goal for France so frustrating and perplexing.

Is it a lack of competition? Could it be because he doesn’t have the same players or movement around him when he plays for his country as he does on turning out for his club? Or is he just not working hard enough, a judgement at odds with his apparently selfless, assist-providing style of play? At the weekend, Real’s new coach, Carlo Ancelotti touched upon this. “Benzema was whistled, [Angel] Di Maria applauded. The supporters see the work. Work is applauded.”

What’s encouraging for France is that, although his attitude has been questioned, Benzema has at least started the season well with two goals and two assists in three games for his club.

Playing in a 4-4-2 under Ancelotti, he finds himself in the same system for France with the in-form Giroud as his partner. Familiarity with the formation – though under Laurent Blanc, Les Bleus also mirrored Real’s 4-2-3-1 – but also having someone to share the goal-scoring burden with might get Benzema scoring for his country again.

Yet should he fire blanks once more against Georgia tonight and Belarus next Tuesday, the calls for him to be benched will only grow.

Franck Ribery went a couple of years without playing well or being decisive for France in the build up to the 2010 World Cup and afterwards. He has since come through the other side, replicating his excellent club form at Bayern for his country. The hope is that Benzema, who wasn’t selected for that tournament, will do the same to get France to the next one in Brazil.

Real Madrid and Chelsea are vying for the Guinness International Champions Cup final in Miami tonight.  Cristiano Ronaldo used the game to showcase his other worldly talent. Wowza.
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The Lead

Well, might as well write about this damn thing as right now it’s just a matter of waiting for the official breaking news alert (brought to you by theScore™!): the deal is done in principle. Tottenham have given in to Real Madrid’s insistence on breaking a world record transfer fee for a player they arguably don’t need at his peak (inflated value) for a mildly nauseating £87m, plus one of Madrid’s and Spain’s most promising strikers, Alvaro Morata.

This decision, taken with their imminent signing of Roberto Soldado from Valencia, at least gives Spurs as good a chance as any to move on up to the Champions League and recoup some of the risks of losing Bale I wrote about yesterday. Oh, and feel free to laugh at that headline.

What I find striking here is the utter lack of guile on the part of Real Madrid, a club that already crowded the top of the “record transfer fee” list before this all came to pass. It reminded me of final scene of the Simpsons episode in which Mr. Burns sells the power plant to German investors. That scene always bothered me because the otherwise cool as you like Germans, when faced with a depressed Burns eager to buy his plant back, slip up:

“Isn’t this a happy coincidence! You are desperate to buy, and we are desperate to sell…”

At which point Burns knows instantly he has the upper hand, and then writes a cheque for a pittance. Perhaps the earlier part of the deal in which RM offered a much more reasonable amount for Bale took place behind closed doors, or maybe Perez is selling a return to the Galacticos era as a way to cleanse the scent of Mourinho and so has lost his mind a bit. Or maybe the club fears Ronaldo will go before the end of August. Who knows? Perhaps Bale is as good if not better than Ronaldo? RM sure think so, and they telegraphed it into an extraordinarily inflated fee.


Meanwhile Steven Gerrard insists Luis Suarez is key to Liverpool’s 2013-14 season [the Guardian].

David de Gea is working his magic to get Cesc Fabregas to join Manchester United [Telegraph].

MLS to add four more teams by 2020 [ESPNFC].

Oh, and the MLS All-Stars 3-1 loss to Roma means nothing about the quality of the league, apparently [ESPNFC].

Pitch invader takes a penalty on behalf of Juventus against Everton, Howard saves [Dirty Tackle].

Uruguay v Italy: 3rd Place Match - FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013

Paris Saint-Germain have reportedly bid ~€59 million for Napoli’s Edinson Cavani. The kicker though is Napoli have set a €63 million release clause for the Uruguayan international. Hey there ناصر بن غانم الخليفي if you’re reading this, why not simply give Leonardo the missing €4 million and get things rolling?

There may be a host of possible answers to that tantalizing question (if you’re the type of person who finds these things tantalizing), but one answer is that PSG considers €63 million is simply too high a valuation. Shocking stuff. And probably not the right answer.

If PSG’s backers were to negotiate with Napoli over this relatively small amount, what recourse would they have to deliberately low-ball on the release clause? There may be a few things. What might help would be some sort of objective look at whether Napoli’s valuation is totally batshit insane to begin with.

Yesterday I wrote an, erm, review of the CIES Football Observatory’s Annual Review. I drew specific attention to their final section on economic value—simply put, the authors used their own algorithm based on a host of performative and historical factors to come up with a baseline transfer value.

Now, I’m on the record as a believer in the concept that “market rate” is simply a function of what someone is willing to pay for something. So whatever Cavani eventually goes for will be his “real” transfer value. However, that shouldn’t prevent analytics firms for trying to come up with a reasonable, empirically-based transfer value to keep things kind of sensible.

Okay, so the magic number: what does CIES think Cavani is worth? €58.3 to €67.8 million. So no, Napoli are not insane. And neither, crucially are PSG.

So what follows is some mega speculomasturbation, but my hunch is that PSG knows Aurelio de Laurentiis’ valuation has scared off some big name suitors, leaving only Real Madrid left to make a possible bid. They likely know they’re within Cavani’s “actual” valuation, and that Napoli might have reasonable grounds not to quibble over 4 million should Real Madrid decide spending that much money on a single player wouldn’t be worth it.

Both parties have recourse to third party evidence that they’re within their “right minds.” While I personally think spending nearly €60 million mortgaging your future away on a single player is about as stupid as you can get, the price is right.