Once again, Real Madrid’s 2014/2015 season culminated with a disappointing finish in the league. The “ideal” team that Ancelloti/Perez had built finished 2 points shy of their arch rivals Barcelona. They were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Juventus and sacked out of the Copa Del Rey in the Round of 16 by their city rivals, Atletico Madrid. By the standards of President Perez, those were one too many disappointments. The final blow to the team came when Carlo Ancelloti was unsurprisingly fired after the final game of the season. So with stars like the BBC and a top notch coach like Ancelloti, what really went wrong with the 2014/2015 Madrid squad? Let’s explore starting from the back:
As a staunch Real Madrid supporter, I cannot fault our last line of defense this season. Saint Iker and his counterpart Navas played well when called upon in the important games. If you recall, it was Iker Casillas that kept the second leg of that series at a respectable score. He made a combined 8 saves and 1 crucial one on Arturo Vidal in the 82nd minute to keep Real in the hunt. One can argue that his foul throw in cost Real the game, but if the Royal Whites had waited that long, they deserved to lose to a much less stacked Juventus side. On the brighter side for Real, it looks like Iker Casillas will be staying for another year even if De Gea is signed. In my opinion, having two world class players like De Gea and Casillas on the same squad is not only a waste of talent and money but it is also a great way to stir up locker room trouble. The question for whoever the new coach will be to decide the fate of Navas or Pacheco. I wish him the best.
Recommended Starting Goalkeepers for 2015/2016 Season: Casillas
Where do I start? Real Madrid’s defense for the past 7 seasons have been horrendous to say the least. For a team that professes to play beautiful football, their defense is certainly lackluster. They gave up 38 goals compared to Barcelona’s measly 21. Even teams like Valencia and Villarreal gave up fewer goals with less known defenders. The temperament and lack of defensive aerial ability of Pepe and Ramos have cost Real a ton of goals. According to whoscored.com, the defense allowed an average of almost 12 shots per game putting a lot of pressure on Iker Casillas to make those saves. It also seemed very convenient for Pepe and especially Ramos to pick up obstruction fouls due to their lack of ability to read an attacker. Pepe and Ramos had a combined average of almost 3 fouls per game in their defensive halves and a total of 11 fouls per game. Although the only team that conceded fewer fouls were the eventual champions, for a team like Madrid that lacks defensive ability on set plays, it could prove costly. It doesn’t look like there is an immediate fix for the aerial defense issues but Real Madrid’s sporting committee’s plan for next season should be to build around their young talent Raphael Varane. The 22 year old Frenchman showed brilliant physical and mental ability throughout the season and he deserved the call up for the Juventus games. Considering how young he is, I have no doubt that his stellar performance will continue, keeping the veteran Pepe on the bench. Along with the beloved Spaniard Ramos whom I doubt could ever be benched or sold, I think Real can create a tandem in central defense that even Mourinho would be proud of. On the flanks of defense, Marcelo was spectacular and no one on the Real team in my opinion had a higher work rate than Carvajal. Perhaps the exclusion of those two in a pivotal game at the end of season made a dent in the team that was impossible to recover from.
Recommended Starting Defense for 2015/2016 Season: Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Carvajal
Players to Transfer Out: Pepe, Coentrao
Players to Transfer In: None
Time and again I have heard football pundits talk about how losing Xabi Alonso has been detrimental for Real Madrid and rightfully so. Alonso was to Madrid what Busquets is to Barca. Not only did he plug holes left by his defenders, but he also had the attacking mindset to supply balls to his strikers. We tried to find a replacement in that of a combination of Modric and Kroos but that still did not prove suitable; largely due to Modric’s injuries. The Croat brought to the team a lot of what Alonso did but his prolonged absence from the lineup was when it all began to fall apart. Case in point, around the time Modric was out was when the 22 game winning streak was brought to a sad end in Valencia. Toni Kroos tried to do it all on his own, sometimes accompanied by Illaramendi and other times by Isco but he occasionally looked sluggish and tired. This was obvious in the second leg of the Juventus series when the dying minutes saw Madrid lie down in defeat instead of putting Juve on the torture rack. Considering 42% of Real Madrid’s attacking chances came from the middle of the pitch, centrally to be specific, a slow and sluggish central midfield can slow down the whole team. Although Isco has been magnificent this season, his inability to keep possession and lack of defense will always keep him in the shadow of Modric. Since he doesn’t seem to understand why he is second to Modric, maybe this summer will be his chance to look for a starting role elsewhere. With the rumors of players like Pogba and Gundogan getting stronger, I expect him to fall even lower in the midfield pecking order. Since it is looking like Benitez will take the reins next year, perhaps it will be good for Madrid to experiment with a new player, one whom has worked with Benitez previously. Although Raheem Sterling has had a damaged relationship with Benitez, perhaps the money and atmosphere in Madrid can put a Band Aid on that relationship. The return of Modric coupled with a fast paced player like Sterling could be just what Madrid needs. With the return of Casemiro on loan from FC Porto, Real can have a strong bench for next season
Recommended Starting Midfield for 2015/2016 Season: James, Modric, Kroos,
Players to Transfer Out: Khedira
Players to Transfer In: Sterling (If he is willing to sit on the bench a few games for Champions League football). Develop players like Odegaard & Lucas Silva
Not much to discuss here. The combination of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano worked well until they actually needed to win. Bale and Cristiano seemed lost in the last few games of the season and were barely noticeable in the Juve and second Valencia games. I believe this was due to the overworking on their part since their defense gave up so many goals early in games and in the season. Ronaldo barely sat for any of the Copa Del Rey games and with the absence of Benzema, Bale had to play when available. If the defense and midfield of Real Madrid improve, they wouldn’t need to push and score 4 goals every game. This will reserve a lot of energy for the bigger games in the Champions League.
Recommended Starting Attackers for 2015/2016 Season: Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema
Players to Transfer Out: Jese (Loan)
Players to Transfer In: None. Develop young players like Borja Moya
If I had written this post a week ago, I would have recommended Ancelloti as coach but since that is no longer realistic, the current and most viable option has to be Jurgen Klopp. Benitez’s CV has been less than desirable. He is known for not working well with his players and not commanding control in the locker room. If he couldn’t cut it at Liverpool and Inter, Madrid will not be the place. As usual, Perez has already made the wrong decision by firing Ancelloti and disrupting team chemistry. If Bentiez, does really become the man in charge, it will be up to the players to do it on their own and with the egos out there on that Madrid field, there will be another disappointing season. A more reasonable option even outside of Klopp and Zidane will be promoting Fernando Hierro or Paul Clement to Manager.
In all I do not think Real Madrid need much of an overhaul in their squad except for ones that necessitate change especially in defense. The return of Modric, a healthy Benzema, and the desire to avoid a consecutive trophy-less season can light some fire under this team. Here is an ideal starting XI:
Photo Credits: lineupbuilder.com,