Is it too early to judge and predict a team’s upcoming season based only on a few pre-season games? Yes. I would definitely say so. Especially after Florentino Pérez’s much-required shopping spree this summer, it would only be right to give Zinedine Zidane a few more weeks to draw up the best possible side for the forthcoming season. Let us look at how important a central-defensive-midfielder is to Real Madrid’s style of play.
Real Madrid’s style of play requires a very important position to be filled up by a player with both offensive and defensive capabilities. The Central-Defensive-Midfielder or commonly coined as ‘CDM’ is beguiled by Casemiro in Zidane’s roster. Offloading Kovačić to Chelsea and Llorente to Atlético Madrid, Zidane is only left with two effective CDMs, Casemiro and Fede Valverde. This is worrisome reflecting on the fact that Casemiro is the only experienced player in this position.
Even though there’s no doubt that the chances that Valverde would deliver are positive, there’s a high amount of risk Zidane has taken by holding onto just one natural CDM. Since 2016, time and time again we’ve noticed the struggle and disturbance in the balance of the team after Casemiro would be substituted.
In a comprehensive option of midfielders, Zidane’s preferable formation would be 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, completely suiting Real Madrid’s style of play. In the few games of the last season and in a couple of games in this pre-season, Zidane did try using Kroos as a CDM and the results were not surprising.
In the last match against Fenerbahce, Kroos was positioned alongside Valverde. That system was not effectively successful but neither was a total failure. Real Madrid did concede three goals but replied with five goals, with great comfort. But again, considering Real Madrid’s stature, conceding three goals was surely not accepted by the fans.
The ‘why’ of it:
- Defence: Real Madrid’s style of play at the back is extremely well known in the football community. It has been a tradition for Real Madrid to sign and train full-backs who have the potential to switch to attack in any possible situation. The full-backs are so well accustomed to this style of play that they can even double up as a winger in the absence or unavailability of midfielders.
This tactic leaves a cynical space in the defence, giving the oppositions enough advantage in a counter-attack. This is where a CDM comes into action. The CDM moves from the centre of the pitch to the side of the counter-attack thus occupying the missing full-backs position, giving him enough time to fall back to defence. For example, in case Marcelo loses the ball upfront and Ramos is man-marking a forward, Casemiro would drop down to the left-back’s position.
- Attack: Using the full-backs in an attacking position, Casemiro provides an extra option to the midfielders while changing the side of the play. It is often observed that changing the side of play using an extra man in the centre, opens up the option of going back to the original side of play for an imminent attack. This option cannot be considered while changing the sides of play by passing the ball aerially.
- Balance: While the two other central midfielders control the tempo of the game, the CDM maintains the balance during offence and defence. If there are no opposition players pressuring the central midfielders, the CDM helps to switch the play horizontally as aforementioned. But if the opposition is actively reacting with pressure, the CDM switches the play vertically; i.e- From or to the central midfielders, central defenders or the full-backs.
This system of play was effectively used by Carlo Ancelotti. The Los Blancos’ galactico, Xabi Alonso, bossed the midfield helping the team win a memorable ‘La Decima’, back in 2014. Casemiro has proved himself no less by holding the team in three successive Champions League wins. But when a system is used in the same manner, it’s effectiveness dries up eventually. The only hope that Real Madrid fans have is that Zidane’s one year break from football gave him enough time to hide some sublime tactics up his sleeve.
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