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What to expect from Lopetegui’s Real Madrid; Fantasy vs Pragmatism.

The Real Madrid side now advances to their first official game post-Cristiano Ronaldo era and there is way too much confusion amongst the fans and the Spanish media. 

Published By: Dalipinder Singh Sandhu (Bliss)

The ‘Los Blancos’ accepted the request of their showbiz footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo who publicly wrote a letter asking his club to consider the offer of Juventus and open the exit doors for him by lowering his €1 billion release clause. After the departure of their all-time top scorer, Real Madrid were expected to spend an exorbitant amount of money for yet another ‘galactico’ signing, the notion comes from the reputation of club President Florentino Perez who always keeps the project as exciting as possible by building up the hype.

Unlike any of the expectations and rumors, Real Madrid have been unusually calm about the situation and are looking forward towards replacing their 50-goals a season man with the players they already have. The club recently changed its ideology of plucking ripe fruit from a neighboring orchard by making them an offer they can’t refuse. In the recent times, Real Madrid have been investing in young talent which is about to blossom, rather than paying 3 times the fees for the player who is already on the epitome of his career. This is one of the reasons why the club feels secured enough to continue doing well after Cristiano Ronaldo.

Currently, in the attack, there are several options for the reigning and defending European Champions. The teenage Brazilian sensation Vinicius Jr, along with the vast number of Spaniards who have previously worked with Julen Lopetegui in the Spanish NT, Asensio, Vazquez, Isco, Ceballos, and Mayoral. Then there is the Welsh superstar Gareth Bale, who was purchased with the pure intention of replacing Cristiano Ronaldo and that day has finally come. Though the fans are hesitant to depend on Bale for his fitness issues throughout his tenure in Madrid so far. Other names are that of Luka Modric and Karim Benzema who have been veterans in the team and have played the silent role of building up the attack and linking the players. There are several ways for Real Madrid to compensate for the absence of Ronaldo.

Real Madrid are now moving into the new era of combination play, possession, high press, quick one-touch passes and rapid buildup from the back. This is not what the club has been known for in the past. Jose Mourinho created a system capable of defending against tiki-taka play of teams like Barcelona and then hurt the opponents on counter attacks by long crosses and taking advantage of players like Cristiano and Di Maria who could sprint like a cheetah and finish the chances.

This was the system under Carlo Ancelotti too who focused more on the hexagonal play while keeping intact the ideological play of Madrid which was to hurt on counter attacks and finish the chances. Such was the classic example in UEFA Champions League Semi-Final against Bayern Munchen second leg where the 13 time European Champions unapologetically schooled Pep Guardiola’s side by 4-0.

Zinedine Zidane was also banking on the same tactics of his predecessors and depending too much on crosses while having blind faith in the heading ability of Bale, Ramos, and Cristiano. The team sometimes used to start games with mad intensity for first 5 minutes but later would start getting apart, in the end, failing to keep the formation and play intact and conceding an early goal. This was one of the growing issues initially shadowed by the immense backbone of the team in La Liga where they scored goals in the dying minutes of the game and lifted the La Liga title in 2017 but fell apart in 2018 where they couldn’t make last minute comebacks. Such failure to resolve the crisis of La Liga where they finished third and were 17 points behind the champions Barcelona, was one of the reasons why Zidane decided to step down as the manager after winning 3 back to back UEFA Champions League titles.

Julen Lopetegui era begins:

Julen Lopetegui who took over the charge of Real Madrid after Zinedine Zidane was earlier the coach of Spain NT. Lopetegui is the kind of manager who is the best suited for this exciting project of Real Madrid, especially after Cristiano Ronaldo. The team is dominated by the domestic talent which has worked under Lopetegui in the past and has been successful.

Many people earlier believed that under Lopetegui Madrid will finally start playing the ‘beautiful football’ of tiki-taka and combinations. Though the preseason matches have shown that Lopetegui has applied his Spain NT tactics quite clearly but he is also designing a system where the team can switch from one kind of play into another quite quickly. In a recent post-match conference, Lopetegui claimed that his side will consist of fast buildup with no wastage of time on horizontal passes. This incurs the way of football will require of creating space in a matter of seconds by breaking lines of defensive sides. For such kind of play, Isco will be the star player for Real Madrid who loves to dribble past defenses and can play as a false 9 too while linking the defense to attack and distributing the ball in the final third where Asesnio and Bale can finish of the chances. Asensio also has played as a false 9 under Lopetegui and has been phenomenal in that space despite being recognized as a pure winger. This adds up to the versatility of play which Lopetegui can execute and change in between the games to catch the opponents of the guard.

The Spanish media hasn’t been kind to Julen Lopetegui and Real Madrid in these times as they have published several reports suggesting that the dressing room is not in compliance to the coach and it is like Rafa Benitez case all over again. This is hard to believe considering the fact that most of the squad has previously worked with pleasure under Lopetegui and others like Modric, Bale, Kroos, Marcelo, and Varane have the exact skill set needed for the tactics of Lopetegui.

The beautiful part is that it seems Julen Lopetegui’s side will be able to play any kind of football, and there will be glimpses of counter-attacks, slow build up, combination play and especially the work rate will increase when ball is not in possession, the high line press will and the pursuit of winning back the ball will be a delight to watch from this side.

Isco era begins:

There will be one stand out player for Madrid in the coming days and that will be Isco. The player has been nurtured by Lopetegui in Spain NT by assigning him the free role of lurking in the middle, dropping back, picking up the ball and making it till the final third for the key pass and a potential assist.

Many people believe Isco was a ball hogger in Real Madrid’s last season which can be rightly said so because under Zidane there weren’t many options left for Isco to pass to in the box. This prompted for Isco to continue dribbling and eventually losing the ball, there was not a system present for Isco to contribute the best way he can.

Under Lopetegui this is unlikely to happen if the link up and chemistry in final third can be worked with Asensio and Bale who really do share a good chemistry with him. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Isco may play the Leo Messi role in Real Madrid.

Replacing Cristiano, do Madrid need signings:

There is no way to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, he is the best player of the century whose kind we may never be able to witness ever again. If Real Madrid go to the transfer market with the objective of bringing in another Cristiano who will score goals a season, that will be the most naive and immature approach possible.

Real Madrid currently have ample amount of names and backups in creative midfield, wings, and even fullbacks but they lack a pure goalscorer. Gareth Bale is the only name they have who can guarantee them at least 30 goals a season provided he stays fit for the whole season which is a big gamble. The team can function by collective responsibility where the goalscoring duties can be distributed amongst several players. Isco, Asensio, Vinicius, Vazquez, Benzema, Mayoral, and Bale all can score 10-15 goals each in the new system which can compromise for the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The names in the transfer window linked to Real Madrid have been those of playmakers like Hazard and Neymar, who score but not like Cristiano. Such transfers will not be contributing to Madrid in goals, the only 2 viable strikers linked to Real Madrid are Icardi and Kane. Both of the names are unlikely to come as per the behavior of Madrid. It would be better to get a backup striker at least like Mariano Diaz who is the ex-Real Madrid player playing for the French club Lyon. If Madrid is not going to sign a striker, then there is no need for another midfielder as the current squad already has more than sufficient quality and in the end, if they don’t get enough time to play, they will ask to leave which wouldn’t be beneficial for ‘los meringues’.

UEFA Super Cup, what to expect:

The Madrid derby tonight at A. Le Coq Arena, Tallinn, Estonia will be the first official game of Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid and needless to say every Madridista will be more than keen to see how the team fares against a side with strong defensive blocks. The match will be a bit less intense than it would have been in La Liga due to the players coming off from vacation and not being match fit.

The formation expected from Real Madrid is of classic 4-3-3 with Bale, Benzema, and Asensio starting up front. According to reports, Navas will be starting ahead of Courtois and the backline will consist of Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, and Marcelo. The midfield is likely to consist of Kroos, Isco, and Casemiro.

What is likely to be seen from Madrid is the breaking of lines and one-touch play in order to penetrate the defensive wall of Atletico but most of the match may see Madrid with more of possession and possible goals from set pieces alone. Isco will be the key player for creating chances down the middle and Bale may be assigned a free role in the final third where he can change his position from the right flank to left.

Atletico, on the other hand, will be as usual, defensive and compact with 10 of the players behind the ball and breaking on the counter-attack with Griezmann leading it. Deigo Simeone may get surprised by the tactics of Lopetegui as the combination play of quick passes can unlock the defense of Atletico, who have suffered when the field is stretched wide and through balls are provided to the likes of Bale and Asensio. Jan Oblak will be the key player for Atletico Madrid as the keeper may keep a clean sheet and force the match into extra time or penalty shootout. The prediction of the editor for tonight’s game is in 2-1 favor of Real Madrid.

In the end, Real Madrid are capable of filling the gap of Cristiano Ronaldo by the current squad itself with the new system of Lopetegui and their priority shall be of La Liga this season as they have already won 3 back to back UEFA Champions League titles. Though Real Madrid may never write off any trophy ever, they will enter the season as underdogs but will eventually prove to be a better team than anticipated. They may even go on to win the treble. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo may work as a blessing in disguise for ‘Los Vikingos’ who have been looking forward to creating a balanced team for a long time. They now have the right players of right age with sufficient experience and the perfect coach to implement the new system. This might turn out to be the period of Real Madrid where they may continue to dominate the world football for several years, reminiscent to 1955-1960 era of Alfredo Di Stefano.

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