Saturday, July 31, 2010

“Mou”re Formation Blues

Marca has dubbed Mourinho’s arrival to Madrid as the second coming of Jesus, while Sport has labeled the subsequent signings as a “failed summer of devalued players”; two extremes, which have left fans with their knickers twisted around their ankles, that is to say, an uncertainty of what to expect from The Special One, who is known to do unexpected things.

There’s been plenty of talk in the press about how this Madrid side is going to play under Jose, some of the supporters justifying that with a side comprising of Ronaldo, Benzema, Kaka and Higuain, it is Impossible to play defensive football as if there is such a term in Jose’s dictionary. If you tell him to and give him enough time, Jose can serve up some of the most turgid football you’ll ever see in your lifetime with a team brimming with attacking talent; that’s how he is. Obviously, this trait has people like me, who have a weakness for those little moments of flair and artwork (known colloquially as “Beautiful Football”), very worried. So, I’ve tried to analyze the possible ramifications for a Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho. Essentially, I see only two ways the team can line up under Mourinho, broadly a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, employed in different manners based on the opposition and the tournament. So, my discussion here will be based around this premise.

Let us inevitably rewind to the UCL semi-final 1st leg of Inter Milan vs Barcelona. Now assume it was Real Madrid who faced Barcelona that night (Yeah right, wishful thinking!); we’d see our team lining up in the manner shown in the diagram on the left.

Though the positions of Kaka, Benzema and Ronaldo have been shown advanced on the pitch, if it was the first leg, we would’ve seen them lining up in a more withdrawn role, with Benzema omitted altogether in preference of Marcelo. However, even with the withdrawn roles, it would mean a distinct lack of defensive quotient in the team, because Kaka and Ronaldo are not really known for their work rate in defending. Another thing to concentrate on is the dotted arrows. Again, you can observe the distinct lack of movement and interchanging positions; but then a counter attacking formation doesn’t really allow you that luxury since you spend most of the time defending. All in all, this would mean suicide. So a point to those who feel that it’s impossible to play a defense oriented formation with Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka in the same team.

A viable solution is to instead harness the ball playing quality of these players instead, rather than their frail defensive abilities. Which is where the 4-3-3 comes into prominence. A look at the board on the left and the formation instantly makes more sense. This is also the place where the signing of Sami Khedira starts making a lot of sense. Manuel Pellegrini (sigh!) played a formation similar to this one post January once Lass was no longer in his favor and Momo wasn’t match fit. He slotted Gago into the position occupied by Khedira on the board and instantly Real Madrid was even better to watch while going forward. This does not mean that Gago is an excellent player (and I keep wondering why we persist with him when he’s not), but it means that this starting eleven is naturally poised to play in a 4-3-3.

If you take out the double pivot of Momo and Alonso from the first board, beef up the midfield with three intelligent ball playing midfielders who know how to sniff out a pass and withdraw Higuain into a role which allows Benzema and Ronaldo to pierce more into the opposition’s defence (again ball playing forwards who are quick with the ball at their feet and know to take on defenders and then lay-off for the center forward), then the side appears to suddenly click. Add the marauding and overlapping full backs to the mix and we got ourselves two and half hours of orgasm. The dotted lines indicate just some of the lanes that the players will take and are an indication of the tremendous scope this formation has to keep the ball with ourselves and play to our strengths and direct the flow on our terms. Note the red and blue blobs. Higuain, in the last couple of years has changed his game play from the right sided forward who took players on to a box poacher, so much so that these days he seems pretty ineffective doing anything else (Note his performance in the World Cup). He needs to rediscover that lost talent because this formation is going to need him to be more than just a “fox in the box”. The blue blobs for Kaka and Ronaldo are to highlight that, in both our lines of defence we have potential weak links. Again this is an issue which needs to be addressed by Jose.

The third board is an alternate formation comprising of most of the new signings, and is probably a formation which would be borne out of desperate measures. It is also a fall back to the first board, but with the right kind of players required to play that counter-attacking game. In this there is little emphasis on creative ball playing, but more emphasis on shoring up the defence (The preference of Marcelo over Arbeloa in this formation is not true which is why the red blob is there; I just wanted to give the poor guy a slot on one of my boards), relying on the pace of speed merchants in Di Maria and Pedro Leon to start the counter attack and relying on the creativity and slight builts of Canales (who is clearly overworked as per the board, hence the blue blob) and Morata (assuming we promote him, hence the red blob) to finish the counter attack.

With these formations, I do not see guys like Drenthe and Granero getting too many chances. They are essentially surplus to requirements, and as such may be sold or loaned out. Van der Vaart is another candidate, but I think he’ll hang on because Kaka hasn’t really given a chance to justify his position in the team. Momo (incidentally one of my favorites for the DM slot) would probably leave too. So a sad smiley there. I also don’t believe we need to be in the market for a LB. Arbeloa has done enough last season and needs to be a confirmed starter with Marcelo providing him cover and developing under Mourinho’s tutelage.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied about how the squad is going to line up though I’d like to know your reactions too. I’ll end this long and winded post on a positive note: Bring on La Liga 10/11.


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