Friday, September 18, 2009

Pellegrini's options

"No juego con mediapuntas* porque no sé bien qué hacen" ('I don't play with advanced playmakers* because I don't know what exactly it is that they do') afirms Manuel Pellegrini.

Below: Pellegrini's 4-2-2-2 lending itself to assymetry as per the characteristics of the players.

The Chilean 'Engineer' outlines a key component of his footballing philosophy, explaining his predeliction for a system which starts from 4-2-2-2, and becomes 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 in defensive phase, depending on the characteristics of the opposing players. However, beyond its immediate implications for Madrid, I thought it opportune to examine the broader conclusions to be drawn from Pellegrini's blueprint, and how such systems can operate, first in the abstract and then in specific application by other teams.

First let us look at Pellegrini's idealised state of football, or something like that, starting with his Villarreal sides as a base; we can assume that the fruits of four years at the helm of the 'Yellow Submarine' club more fully embodied his vision than does at present a Madrid team very much in the incubator stage.

Pellegrini instructed his full-backs to alternate their incorporations to the attack. Ahead of the four-man defense was a duo of holding midfielders but each of constrasting styles; normally one was a pure destroyer (Sebastian Eguren or Alessio Tacchinardi), whilst the other was a robust organising figure (Marcos Senna). One of the pair was detailed to plug defensive gaps when a full-back would advance whilst the other would advance slightly in support of the play ahead of him, but rarely breaking beyond the ball. Two creative players started from a comparatively advanced position on both flanks, often interchanging their respective positions. Hence their attacking movement was as much horizontal as it was diagonal and less so vertical, which distinguished this midfield from that of a classic flat 4-4-2.

It is in this band that we find the most curious detail of the system and one of great concern to those footballers purporting to be 'mediapuntas', to whom Pellegrini refers in the above quote. The team line-up was typically capped off by two strikers, or at least two forwards of some description. One was usually an orthodox fixed central presence, such as the multi-faceted Diego Forlan or the more recognisably target-men Guille Franco/Joseba Llorente. The other tended to be a more elusive, mobile attacker (such as Nihat or later Guiseppe Rossi).

Pellegrini did often face away games in Europe with the presence of a third attacking-midfielder centrally placed to the detriment of the support striker, effectively an enganche/mediapunta in all but name. But this was clearly a plan B borne out of defensive considerations ; not that 4-2-3-1 always need be considered defensive, but in this case it was a slight gesture to caution from Pellegrini who wanted his team to retain posession for even longer periods in European fixtures. Generally speaking, nonetheless, a player like Ariel Ibagaza who was a nimble incarnation of the classic Argentine enganche or even Spain's Santi Cazorla- a player of similar characteristics- usually found himself required to play from a wider position under Pellegrini's 4-2-2-2.

Pellegrini's problems at Madrid can be summarised thus:

-club sold Snejider, ideal player for the 'interior' positions in his 4-2-2-2

Above: how Pellegrini's sides triangulate to create width in a 4-2-2-2

- Cristiano Ronaldo is ideally suited to the outside-forward positions in a 4-3-3, a no-go for Pellegrini who prefers fluctuating width. Failing that, then as either a second-striker in a front pairing or as a very direct No.10 behind the strikers in a 4-3-1-2;trouble is, this role is also ideally suited to Kaka.

- Kaka himself thrives on the aforementioned 'mediapunta role', so how to divvy up one role and one position between two explosive, powerful players, each lethal at striding into the box or shooting from beyond it. Ergo, danger of a redundancy of roles, players making similar runs, getting in each others' way etc.

- Kaka can also play as a second-striker to a partner (as he frequently did in away games for Milan)in a front two. But in Raul, Benzema and Higuain, Madrid already have overbooking in this department.

- As indicated from the opening paragraph to this post, Pellegrini doesn't like to use that type of player commonly known as a mediapunta in Spain (half-forward), enganche in Argentina, meia de ligacao/quarto homem do meiocampo in Brazil, and trequartista in Italy. In English we don't have a specific equivalent (the use of the term 'second-striker' is erroneous since its proper usage refers to a slightly different role, namely that of the mobile attacker employed either side of and in support of the No.9, typically a reconverted winger or a versatile forward). Granted, some enganches have succesfully reconverted into second-strikers and vice-versa, so I'll attempt a coinage for English; 'advanced linkman' (a bit unwieldy, admittedly).

Consider the role of the traditional enganche, whether he be the languidly poetic type (as in Riquelme, Rui Costa or a young Andrea Pirlo) or else the more lively, mobile -and typically shorter- fellow (like Pablo Aimar, Diego Ribas de Cunha, Luka Modric); whether he be playing behind one striker (as in 4-2-3-1) or two (as in 4-3-1-2). It is indicative of the changes creeping across modern football that these players have had to either re-adjust their playing style or else fall into obsolesence, a fate which Rui Costa, if he were still playing, would surely have shared with Riquelme. Andrea Pirlo lit a beacon to the languid trequartista by devising his by-now legendary playing-behind-the-midfield role, but Pirlo's trailblazing inversion of the midfield diamond has inexplicably gone unheeded by like-minded artistes; witness Riquelme's obdurate refusal to compromise his game so much an inch, not even if what his coach proposes turns out to be his only hope of survival in the modern game. The more nimble exponents of No.10-craft have learnt to readjust to slightly deeper role (such as Deco in Barcelona's three-man midfield)or else to a nominally wide position just ahead of the midfield such as Modric in Spurs' assymetrical 4-4-2 (more naturally suitable still would be a wide creative role in a 4-2-3-1 for the purposes of cohesiveness, but the Croat's individual freedom is not curtailed due to said assymetry).
Pellegrini wishes, ideally, to have two such playmakers who can start from these wide positions yet without making for a flat 4-4-2 in the classical sense.

Some questions arise at this point:
- is this magic square essentially a 4-2-3-1 only without the trequartista in the middle and an extra striker of some description? Pellegrini has said that he considers Ronaldo to be a forward without specifying as to whether that might encompass No.9, second-striker or winger, which seems a fair observation given the various roles the Portuguese played at Manchester United. Ronaldo could also conceivably play as a No10 in a 4-2-3-1, and one that was set-up to be counter-attacking but there again, so too could Kaka, hence one of them would be forced wide in such an arrangement. Neither is especially suited to a patient playmaking role, least of all Ronaldo, and both prefer to surge into open space.

- how effective is the 4-2-2-2 when it comes to transitions and the defensive phase and how could Pellegrini's players be comfortably effective in executing such tasks?

- What defensive variant should the 4-2-2-2 morph into when in defensive phase (following the Capello dictum of nine men behind the ball)? How deep can the defensive formation be initiated without compromising the characteristics of certain players?

- if Cristiano and Kaka occupy the advanced midfield positions in this system, would it be more natural in defensive phase to revert to a 4-2-3-1 (one of the strikers dropping off to mark the opposing defensive midfielder) or would a Sacchian 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 not be too exerting and wasteful of their talents? In the 4-2-3-1, Cristiano and Kaka could initate their pressing from a relatively higher station and therefore closer to the oppoenents' goal than they would under two flat banks of four, which in the modern game is better suited to deep defending.

- Would Cristiano and Kaka plus the two strikers make this a 'broken team'( a front four and a back four being tenuously held together by two midfielders), therefore top-heavy like Brazil at the 2006 World Cup? Hence would it not be better for one of them to play as a second-striker, and the other to remain in an advanced midfield role (thereby offering opportunity for a more defensively solid player like Granero to take the remaining wide midfield spot)?

- One would imagine that such top-heaviness might be allayed by spreading the offensive ballast of the team more broadly over the pitch, namely in a 4-3-3 with Cristiano and Kaka as wide attackers, and without compromising the depth of the midfield. But this seems to be anathema to Pellegrini, who has tended to prefer a Wenger-esque 4-4-2 in his teams. Examples of other teams abound: Didier Deschamps' Monaco lit up the 2003-04 Champions' League with a similar approach. More pertinently, Madrid under Del Bosque played the 2000-01 season in a fluid 4-2-2-2.Del Bosque repeated the experiment with the Spanish national team's friendly versus England in February 2009, a game which saw Xabi Alonso and Marcos Senna holding the midfield behind Xavi and Iniesta. At Madrid, Pellegrini obviously counts on the deep organisation of Alonso but can also call on an even more destructive player (relative to Senna who is virtually a double of Alonso) in Lassana Diarra.

- Pellegrini argues against 4-3-3, reasoning that 'permanent width' could make his team too predictable and that in a 4-2-2-2 his players have more chance to occupy and vacate wide spaces at will during the build-up by engaging in a series of triangles horizontally across the pitch before playng the final killer pass. Against this rationale, one could argue that the permanent width that a 4-3-3 creates ceases to be so once the team arrive in the final third. But Pellegrini would argue that he prefers his team to have open pastures of space ahead of it, hence their preference to disoccupy it and hopefully draw their opponents further into the midfield. His teams are also less suited to pressuring high up the pitch, since Ronaldo and Kaka thrive when they have acres ahead of them for the counter-attack. One potential problem is that this can lead to overelaboration without ever penetrating the defence.

This Saturday (October 17th), fortune conspired through injuries and enforced rest for Pellegrini to be without Ronaldo and Kaka, and therefore in a position to use two players who would have thrived in his Villarreal sides; Van der Vaart and Granero. Both were ideally suited to the wide creative roles in his 4-2-2-2, since they don't need a lot of space ahead of them in order to carry the ball, preferring instead to offer quick distribution and defensive dilligence (in the case of Granero, who is more of an 'interior' in the modern Spanish sense of the word) and encyclopaedic passing and fantasy in the case of Van der Vaart, who is more recognisably a Modric-style No.10 and who like Modric, Deco et al, now needs to make the transition playing with more defensive responsibilities. This is all very well, but the reality is that sooner or later Kaka and Crisitano will return to the starting line-up.

My conclusion is that unless one of Ronaldo and Kaka volunteers to play as a second forward, Pellegrini cannot fit them both into a specifically 4-2-2-2 system, due to the 'broken team' scenario, and even then, the other wide creative role should go to a player like Granero who offers balance and positional discipline, whilst Kaka should be less restricted in his station. The overall effect would be to produce an assymetric system, best understood by looking at the graphic provided here. The disadvantage with such an intentionally assymetrical system is that the transition to defensive phase is harder to programme and automate in the players' movements

Accepting that both Ronaldo and Kaka are sacred cows, another system must be employed but one which includes a third midfielder (of some description) situated closer to the Alonso-Diarra double pivot, so that these two will not become overrun (eg; triangulated by the opposition) in defensive phase. More importantly, it offers Alonso another creative outlet in terms of distributing the ball from central areas, assuming that said player is not markedly destructive (which would rule out Mahamadou Diarra, for instance). Guti is conceivably an option but such a player would need to be defensively attentive and industrious during 90 minutes - a big ask of Guti, especially in games away from the Bernabeu.

Whichever way we choose to look at it, an integrally narrow three-man midfield is what we are proposing here. So now the question is, discarding the option of overt assymetry, which concrete formation(s) is/are most suitable for Madrid in terms of personnel? For me, it comes down to a choice between 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 as both systems can be built around an identical tight-three man midfield. My own preference would be for the first with Kaka and Ronaldo wide but Pellegrini clearly does not even consider this. So, it seems that the midfield diamond is the next most obvious option.

But how to configure the midfield? Lass is not a static player and, though more than capable of screening a defence a la Mascherano, his best version is seen when his energy and agression can be employed quicker in the tackle, interrupting the opponents' constructive play earlier in the transition. Alonso on the other hand is less mobile and therefore a liability for the wide-of-centre roles, since said role requires the player to track back and assist his full-back, amongst other demanding tasks. Granero can do this on one side but Alonso on the other? There is the argument that Alonso would be too lightweight and indeed too slow to act as the sole holder at the base of the midfield. But this can be counterweighted by either of Granero and Diarra tucking in beside him during certain phases of play.

Fortuitously enough, such an arrangement may be be born out of necessity to cover the positional fleet-footedness of attacking left-back Marcelo: Lass being a constant defensive presence nearby. This scenario would also see some natural balance on the other flank, only in this instance it would be an inverse of the left side since Granero- a considerably less defensive player than Lass, would be less burdened than his French teammate given a more defensively solid and conservative full-back in Alvaro Arbeloa positioned behind him. This may conceivably encourage assymetry should the players lose their bearings, and even invite teams to concentrate their attacks down whichever of Madrid's flanks is left unguarded, but such is Pellegrini's lot. It looks like no system will easily fit this Madrid, but the centrality of Granero to whatever embryonic scheme the coach may hatching is becoming increasingly conspicuous.


  1. hey rob its srini u know what? you should complete a coach's exam and start gettin' jiggy with it man!!! great job!

  2. excellent piece as usual! as you pointed out the fact that he prefers his teams to play more horizontally in the build up waiting for a final killer pass, the question to me came up that both Ronaldo and Kaka, two players who just love vertical football and thrive there, should be absolutely of no use for that system. Obviously the individual talent Madrid got will make them good enough to beat most La Liga opponents comfortably but against better organized teams, depending on the progress in the upcoming months, it makes really no sense.
    Further, the rumor that Pellegrini never really fancied Benzema, who is not really a "referente" or a mobile striker, but more of a playing forward, makes some sense. Basically, he is forced to play a team of fancy players he seems to have no use for in his system, kind of like the late Colin McRae driving a F1 car. Question is who, in the long run, will get his way through.

  3. Here is to hoping they get it wrong! I like Pellegrini, but I always figure a coach should be less STRICT on his system. Real Madrid is a mess though so only god knows what he has to put up with.

    I think this is best line up Real can put out that will work as well but I am very pro 4-3-3. From reading your thoughts I think you agree.


  4. Another very, very interesting post, cheers Roberticus!


  5. With tactics there is a danger of over-complicating things or even arguably being to set in your ways.

    I don't think the sitation is as troublesome as it sounds as all he in all probability needs in the defensive phase are his two pivots in front of his centre backs who are allowed to cover for the full backs if needed.

    My idea would be to have Xabi and Lass/Granero in front similar to Eguren and Senna. I think people really do underestimate Alonso's allround skill and he certainly can run, tackle and shoot. Lass less so as his passing is lacking.

    The front four I envisage will be similar to United's 07/08 and Ronaldo starts from the flank and takes the position of the two roaming forwards (Raul and Benzema or even Kaka) while the right wide player also is allowed to come in which could be Kaka or Van der Vaart or swich left with Ronaldo.

    It may seem top heavy but it is about pressuring high, stretching play and having different angles to attack from. The problem could be work-rate and indeed whether Pellegrini is versatile enough to switch ideologies. I'll add an image on this soon.

  6. is your conclusion in part that, despite going far out of his way to remove the trequartista from his system, it seems as though Pellegrini is still going to be quite reliant on a close approximation of that position, in Esteban Granero?

  7. In regards to Pellegrini´s era at Villareal, I think you overlooked the Riquelme period (also arguable the club´s most successful). During that time, Senna was the sole holding midfielder in a diamond 4-4-2.

    Although I agree that Madrid is a mess, but Pellegrini seems obsessed with always playing 2 pure strikers and 2 holding midfielders. This is an absolute waste given the plethora of attacking and creative midfielders. And let´s not forget that Kaka had incredibly success as a dribbling, create his own shot attacking mid in 2007

  8. that game today reminded me of Barca 2007/2008. Lots of horizontal passes, almost no movement, hoping for individual brilliance, 66% possession but no real danger..

    But you immediately saw that the team started to play a bit better with guys like Van der Vaart and Guti, who seem to just fit in more to Pellegrini's football ideal. Makes me think which one of Kaka and Ronaldo Pellegrini would give away, if he could give away one.

  9. @ Ulague: Didn't he say at the start of the season Kaka was his untouchable (or something like that before the press exaggerated it).

    Kaka had always played as a forward for Milan and in that sense, Pellegrini's preference for two forwards should put Kaka on top. But the politics at Real means he must play Ronaldo aswell (which he doesn't mind too much) but also Raul and Benzema. It's difficult because he likes creativity which gives you movement but these are mainly all vertical players, even Benzema to some degree.

    Playing Granero wider is trying to balance that creativity while Van der Vaart and Guti are unlikely to get bums on seats even if they seem infinitely better suited.

  10. @ Everyone

    Thanks very much for your responses, which I will address individually in due course.

    I value reading your contributions and do feel free to leave links should you yourself have a blog.



  11. Srini

    thank you for the ego boost. Just ber sure prick my bubble when I threaten to loose all sense of proportion!



  12. Ulaguer,

    you've gotten my point about the contradictions regarding Pellegrini's system and the personnel to carry it out.

    Not that I doubt for one moment that Pellegrini himself is not the architect of this incongruence. Had the Chilean himself been given a greater say in the signing of new players, I reckon he would have held on to Sneijder and would have requested only one of Ronaldo-Kaká, and probably even kept Huntelaar as back-up to Van Nistelrooij in the No.9 stakes. Now we are seeing just how Madrid are missing such a central attacking pivot.

  13. Steve,

    I think that your proposal for a 4-3-3 is what most people would go for were they in charge. It seems to me the most logical way of including the 'vertical' attacking styles of Kaka and Cristiano without diluting the midfield, a midfield that must include Alonso (now that he has been signed).

    However, I also recognise that Pellegrini's own preferences must be respected. Indeed, given that he does not believe in 4-3-3, I would be disappointed in him were he to change tack now; we all like to see a coach's vision (within limits and without control freakery) embodied in the way his players interact on the pitch. Pellegrini deserves the chance to distill his footballing philosophy on this team. But Madrid is a dangerous place for any coach to try and create his own project. No doubt the knives will be sharpening for him amongst the meseta press, who frustratingly (if you are a Madridista)serve to inhibit a healthy culture or any progress at Madrid.

  14. @ exvanp

    I've seen you on the Guardian fora before, haven't I?

    Thanks for the comments, do keep writing here!


  15. @arsenalcolumn

    Roberticus more or less answered the Kaka question. I think that Pellegrini's idea was to have just one of Ronaldo or Kaka.
    It might sound harsh and I might come back to eat my words, but there are 2 things to look at, one is the football and one is the result.
    Football-wise, Ronaldo gives Madrid probably nothing, at least nothing more than what they had with Robben, Sneijder, Kaka, Van Nistelrooy, Benzema etc. already.
    Robben was a better pure winger, Sneijder better on set pieces, Kaka better on the final pass, Van Nistelrooy better threat in the area etc. you get my point. However, as it is now, they don't have 1 single player who is a bigger threat to score goals for them and get them the result than Ronaldo, hence the reason they miss him so much.
    Kaka on the other hand, if they had just signed Kaka, they could have easily built a team around Kaka and how Kaka can thrive when the team is built around him and he knows exactly what to do, is what you saw with Milan between 2004-2007 and now with Brazil. But then again, for a million reasons, it was not possible for Madrid to get just Kaka or just Ronaldo, or let's just say they wanted Kaka but got Ronaldo too and now their original idea, Kaka, for various reasons isn't working as it should.
    So if Pellegrini said in the beginning that Kaka is the one untouchable player, I believe it because both in the long and short run, he is the central piece for his football idea. But result wise, he needs right now Ronaldo and well, this kills the long run.
    And I also think that Pellegrini would have been quite happy with just having last year's team and just Kaka, Negredo, Albiol and a leftback added to it.

  16. @ arsenalcolumn,

    thanks for contributing; I have your blog bookmarked and look forward to your analysis as to how Arsenal's season progresses.

    re: Alonso, I agree in that people often mistakenly liken him to Pirlo due to his imperious passing range, and therefore overlook his defensive game. Firstly, Pirlo was a No.10 and so naturally he can boast even broader vision of the play around him and more imaginative short range passing. Secondly, Alonso is a remnant of the kind of 'centre-half' that was the pivot of the old 2-3-5 teams. In other words, the kind of central midfielder who has always played is football behind the ball and in central midfield. Xabi's defensive game, whilst not energetic, is still effective in terms of intercepting passes, obstructing lines for a potential player movement and even tackling from a somewhat static position. My doubts about Alonso being unaccompanied in defensive work central areas is owing to his lack of mobility: he can slot in between the centre-backs but don't expect him to wove out wide to cover the space left by his full-backs - a job better suited to either of the Diarra's. Even Granero can contribute here.

    From what I understand, your proposal is very 'pellegrinista'in terms of shape, movement and personnel. The question is, will Madrid have enough time to click into place and synchronise those movements?



  17. @ Arsenal column


    You raise an important point about this reality of the front four at Madrid. And it is a de facto front four in the sense that Madrid have a tendency to become a 50/50 'broken team', i.e. the distance between the lines of the four most attacking players and the back four becomes exaggerated and with the two midfielders isolated in their attempts to link the two sectors together. And this is unsustainable, at least against top opposition, in modern football as Fabio Capello points out. The Capello dictum states that nowadays all competitive sides must place some arrangement of nine men behind the ball in defensive phase, regardless of the starting or attacking formation and without regard to whether that team carries out its defense high up the pitch or deep in its own half.

    I think Pellegrini envisages in his magic rectangle system an inherent interchangeability among his front four. So much so that each can play in one another's position (especially when they play without a fixed No.9 like Ruud). So it's almost as if he can content himself with having a well-drilled back four, a solid central midfield and ergo his front four configures itself. Which may well be beneficial in offensive phase (the triangles, the interchanging of positions like Manchester United of two years ago) but here I see a difference.

    That wonderfully fluid, nebulous United attack did indeed operate without a fixed central presence and Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and Giggs did change positions at will. In defensive phase, however, they were well co-ordinated and the individuals assumed the responsibility to fall into line and establish the first and second lines of defence. This is what Pellegrini would need to do, along similar lines, but there seems to be precious little inclination to do so from the players themselves. Either that, or else they simply have not been instructed how to do so on the training ground.

    It just seems to me that Pellegrini is trying to play a Villarreal style with a Man Utd. style squad.

  18. I would add, in relation to the previous point about Capello's dictum, that Madrid's challenge therein is to get 3 of those 4 front players to drop behind the ball in defensive phase. They need to do this by any arrangement; there is almost a science to this, and whilst all the players must be committed and professional in doing this, at the same time you don't want player X carrying out a job that he can only do half-well or which might reduce his attacking effectiveness.

  19. @ fall from grace

    I think Pellegrini has no objection to enganches so long as they have a modicum of pace and are willing to start from a wide position. I don't think Granero is an enganche/mediapunta, rather he is an 'interior'(somewhere between box-to-box and Xavi-style creator). Van der Vaart on the other hand, is such a classic No.10. For me the litmus test is to see which player feels more comfortable playing in a midfield trio or else wide in a diamond; that makes him an interior, who can be very creative player but not one who eschews the workload or positional discipline. Granero can effortlessly fit into a three; for Van der Vaart I think it is a bridge too far (rather too 'deep'. Sneijder could maybe follow the template set by Deco for the No.10s-reborn-as-all-round midfielders category.

    Most No.10s today have a defensive brief of pressing the opposing defensive midfielder whenever he approaches his centre-backs to assist them in helping carry out the ball from defence. They also tend to track any runs from the defensive midfielder back into their own half.

    Those coaches who like Pellegrini prefer to play with two forwards, believe that one of their forwards (normally the second, more mobile striker)can execute the first of these defensive functions, though obviously not the second. So if the wide playmakers assist him in pressuring the opponents' exit from the other half, a 4-2-2-2 can become 4-2-3-1. When the opponents eventually overcome the first/second line of pressure (depending on whether you consider that the remaining striker's harrying of their backline to constitute significant defence..what if he is a Berbatov/Ibrahimovic type figure?) by which I mean that of the '3', the second striker can disconnect from the combat and drift in between the lines whilst the two wide playmakers retreat further still and dig in alongside the holding mids to form a classic bank of four in front of the back four (4-4-1-1). This can be quite exhausting for luxury playmakers as they could end up well deep within their own half and just several metres from their back four.

    Ultimately, it's a question of whether these wide playmakers can do the job effectively without being burned out and too removed from the opposition goal. In the case of Pellegrini, which of his players would look uncomfortable/misused in such a defensive function? I'd argue that Granero could do this no problem, Van der Vaart would be burned out, Sneijder would have made like Deco and adjusted his game to it (much the way Arsenal's wide playmakers would do), but Kaka and Ronaldo for all their athletic prowess would seem too pinned back, too restrained in too deep an area.

  20. Hi Elliot,

    thanks for the timely reminder about the Riquelme era at Villarreal.

    Yes, I remember that Pellegrini set them up in a kind of a diamond with, as you have said, Senna at the base and (I think) Hector Font/Cani and Juampi Sorin in the wide-of-centre positions. I do remember however, that Pellegrini seemed to be nudging that diamond towards a 4-2-2-2 or some kind of 4-4-2 and hence asking Riquelme to move wide to the right and adding a second holder to free up Senna. Either one of Font/Cani moved over to the left flank and Sorin shifted to left-back or else Sorin continued in that left-mid role. I don't think it ever quite became a rectangular midfield, hence the assymetry reflecting an precarious balance which was probably a source of tension between Pellegrini and Riquelme. The Argentine no doubt refusing to budge so much as one inch from his preferred area in the hole.
    At least at Madrid, Pellegrini has more willing players at his disposal

  21. what a great read

    If Ronaldo, Kaka, Lass and Alonso have to play the best thing to do is using a "doble pivote system" with NO RAUL and both ronaldo and kaka open wide.


    Only 3 people don't defend much and, there are "two teams" but the defensive one made of 7 players and the offensive one made of 3 players. The man in front of the doble pivote has to defend for sure but he is free to attack also, Marcelo and Ramos can go up and make crosses.

    Visca el Barça

  22. When Real signed Ronaldo,Kaka and Alonso, I was sure they were going to play 4-2-3-1 and put Robben on the left. I didn't realise Pellegrini was an inflexible 4-2-2-2 nut. But in any case I thought the imagined system was very 'airy' defensively. Like an F1 car with a lot of wing but no mechanical grip... Robben, Kaka, Ruud, Ronaldo. A very 'split' team as you mention elsewhere.

    I was drawing up my Real team alongside as I read your article and thinking 'surely he needs to pick 3 in the centre given the players he has'. It was at that point that you bring in the notion of a three that is nominally a four. That is really good stuff. At the moment you put it down I had approximately the same idea in mind but with an unknown where you put Granero (don't know his game well enough). I had even deleted the second Diarra : it becomes way too destructive as you say...

    The idea of a front 3 with Kaka left and Ronaldo right is good too. Just need to decide who plays 'dans l'axe'.

    Then the midfield is Xabi and one of the Diarras and one of VdV/Granero/Guti.

    That seems fine, although one would prefer players with more defensive pedigree than VdV and Guti.

    Cut and paste the same players into 4-2-2-2 and you have Brazil in 2006. And remember who knocked them out with a similarly troubled, at times imbalanced squad? Was it not a certain team playing in a very Real 2001 4-2-3-1?

    So definitely 4-3-3 is the best bet for Real. In an attacking sense I prefer it even more with Kaka in the hole and VdV on the left - he's played there before and he does it fine, has a great cross on him... nice for Raul/Ruud/Ronaldo that. Again, problem is defensive.

    Another good option is 4-3-1-2 as you say. I rather like the idea of Ruud fixed in the centre and Ronaldo free and pushed high up on either flank.

    Problem though is that the left and right of the middle three need to get to the wings at times in that formation, and it's tough. Also since logically (and due to his limitations) Alonso plays the middle, then of the two guys left and right one has to be a genuine destroyer. So Diarra on the right, ok, but can your Granero play a slightly more attacking role on the left? It sounds like the answer is 'maybe'!

    All in all you end up with the same X1 players each time, in different positions.

    What about the Real defence, who would you pick and what part has it got to play? You mention Marcelo/Arbeloa - it reminds me of that old theory that 'the worst player in a good football team is always the right-back'.

  23. Hi there el Witor, Interesting proposition of yours, this 7:3 division of labour. This was more or less how Bilardo's teams divided creative and defensive responsibilities in the 1980s and plenty of teams followed suit (regardless of whichever formation they actually played). I would add that following the Sacchi revolution, this ratio developed still unto 8:2 and most top teams in Europe followed suit throughout the 90s. Capello has observed that in recent years this division of labour has transformed into 9:1 at the top level, again independently of the starting formation. There are however, some exceptions to this rule, especially outside of Europe. In Argentina for instance, I'd say things are still between 7:3 (especially if an enganche is employed) and 8:2. In Brazil it tends be anything from 6:4 to 7:3 though changes are afoot at the top level. PLease note, this is not an indication of attacking intent nor fluid football for reasons I will not go into today (but perhaps will make an interesting future post).

  24. More specifically to the point about Real Madrid and how this division of labour affects them: even with Granero lying ahead of your double pivot, the division can be arranged at anything from 7:3 to 9:1 depending on the roles of Cristiano and Kaka in defensive phase (not just on both these players' willingness but also on the coach's ability to balance their workload-vs-creative licence). For example, your formation to me looks like a classical Dutch 4-3-3 (two mediocentros + enganche) even more so than Barca's (one mediocentro + two interiores) since Granero is playing more as an enganche than as an interior, though he could easily play either role. At any rate, your 4-3-3 could fluctuate between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-3-1 in the transition to defensive phase but, and this is critical, it would depend on the movement of Alonso and Diarra. We can assume that Granero will either: i) give the first combat to the opposition pivot or ii) scale back alongside one of Alonso/Diarra to form a defensive bank. The trouble is a)if Kaka and Ronaldo are to fall in alongside this bank (4-1-4-1), then the two central players had better not retreat so deeply lest they drag Kaka and Ronaldo with them (which would be an abuse of their attacking faculties and stamina). Conceivably, Cristiano and Kaka could remain stationed relatively high ahead of a midfield trivot (4-3-2-1) and thus hope to profit from any outball to start a counter-attack but this would lead to a definite 7:3 division whose defensive component (especially the midfield trio) might be overmanned and outpassed by more skilled sides. So if Madrid are to form three defensive lines using the system you've described, and if they want Kaka and Cristiano to 1)press the ball relatively high, and 2) be closer to the opponents' half and therefore goal area in the event of recovering the ball, the team best play a compact 4-1-4-1 with a high defensive line. But this in turn will dictate the employment of the midfield personnel: who will join Granero pressuring the opponents' central midfield at an early stage of losing possession? Alonso, though robust and a competent tackler, hardly seems mobile enough to carry out such agressive running and jockeying. Besides which, do we really want Xabi to find himself high in midfield and possibly ahead of the ball in the event that Madrid were to win back possession? We all know that Alonso's game demands that he see the play ahead of him at all times. Otherwise his passing range and organisational skills become disused. Lass (or Mahamadou Diarra) would be better suited to this kind of pressing and harrying game. It could work, and with Alonso behind as a pivot between these lines, the Basque would have a wealth of passing options ahead of him to initiate counter-attacks. Conversely, the lines must be very compact lest Alonso finds himself having to run sideways having to plug gaps and cover the dubious positional play of full-backs Ramos and Marcelo (Arbeloa would be a must in either position).

  25. Witor, the other alternative within your proposal is that the group takes up a 4-2-3-1 position in defensive phase, so the outside forwards (Kaka and Cristiano) would fall back to form a line of pressure alongside Granero, thus keeping the double pivot intact. The first line of three would still be relatively advanced compared to a bank of four (in a 4-4-1-1) and so the attacking midfielders/second-strikers would be closer to goal in the event of winning back the ball. But this would still entail a great deal of work for Cristiano and Kaka; both blessed of stamina to be sure, but they need convincing of this. The danger is that if these two (though never Granero) disengage or lose focus for a few seconds, Madrid still risk becoming a broken team along a 7:3 basis - not necessarily a problem against inferior sides, but a competitive if even less-talented opponent could still make them suffer. I do think that the 4-2-3-1 (in defensive phase, mind; the starting formation is 4-3-3)gives Madrid the added security of Lass/Mahamadou being able to plug defensive gaps whilst Alonso keeps a static central position. Maybe Kaka and Ronaldo will switch off after initially pressurising the opponents' bringing of the ball out from the back. Perhaps the double pivot can pick up the scraps.

  26. In any case, it does appear that this Madrid squad -through poor planning- seems naturally inclined towards being a broken team. Accepting that, it would then be advisable for the offensive trio to gel and coordinate their attacking movements as quickly as possible and for the Alonso-Diarra pivot to synchronise their defensive covering. In such a scenario, maybe Madrid would be advised to play a bit deeper and either hit teams on the break or else grind them down with 'pegada' of their front players. Some Madridistas have even been suggesting (blasphemically by Spanish tastes)that a Diarra-Diarra double pivot will soon become an unwelcome necessity. In other words, a Brazilian-style double-destroyer to plug gaps everywhere. Just like Domenech's France with Lass and Toulalan. This would be unpalatable to Florentino, and it would leave Granero as the sole creative presence in the centre (and possibly withdraw him closer to the defense), and the dangers to fluidity of play are inherent. But wouldn't this be basically a return to the Capello formula of Emerson + Diarra? The crowd would voice their discontent at a spartan if effective style. In just one season, the Italian was barely in the door of the Bernabeu and already knew that sometimes the ugliest remedy is the only adequate one for making a broken team function. All those expensive attacking signings seem to be leading to the opposite effect. Ultimately, it boils down to a question of, as Roy Hodgson so succinctly put it: "Do I have the right kind of player to perfom this kind of job?", which may seem like any other tautology but which nevertheless conveys the case that a coach must employ his players in roles which enhance both their individual talents and the cohesiveness of the group as a whole. So pray, what formula, what starting point, outline or gameplan can be wedded to this collection of players? And, are Madrid destined to live off pragmatism and pegada?

  27. John, interesting to see your own calculations were leading you to the same conclusions that similarly appeared before me.

    Granero's game: He has something of the box-to-box player about him, though not in the impulsive, Bryan Robson-Steven Gerrard sense: i.e. he does possess tactical nous and positional discipline. In that way, I'd say he's similar to Lampard. Like the Chelsea man, he can do a job as a No.10/enganche though creativity and vision are not his salient features. Like Lampard, he also seems to work hard at adapting to whatever unfamiliar role he finds himself in. I follow Spanish convention in calling him an 'interior'; best employed wide-of-centre in a three man midfield (4-3-3 or diamond 4-4-2), though conceivably he could fill in for Alonso alongside Diarra (as per Lampard with England)in a central partnership.

  28. John...

    furthermore, in an attacking trio Madrid would need more of a central striker. This just cries out for Van Nistelrooy. But what about the now-departed Huntelaar? Despite his limitations, he would have been a good target man. Even for coming off the bench.

  29. "The idea of a front 3 with Kaka left and Ronaldo right is good too...although one would prefer players with more defensive pedigree than VdV and Guti...": - I completely agree.

    "Another good option is 4-3-1-2 ....Problem though is that the left and right of the middle three need to get to the wings at times in that formation, and it's tough. Also since logically (and due to his limitations) Alonso plays the middle, then of the two guys left and right one has to be a genuine destroyer.." - yes, I think that the energy of Lass/Mahamadou plus that of Granero ( who is quite mobile) could help supplement the play down the flanks; both offensively and defensively.

    So Diarra on the right, ok, but can your Granero play a slightly more attacking role on the left? It sounds like the answer is 'maybe'!
    - Well, I'd place Diarra on the left and Granero on the right, but that's not so important. And yes, Granero is more offensive and capable of advancing down the flank, especially if he has the assistance of one of the forwards plus Kaka in proximity.

    It might appear in danger of being unbalanced (though sometimes,and espececially in questions of offense, I believe unbalance can be a good thing). If needs be (protecting a lead; tricky away game etc), you could balance it out by adding M Diarra to the other wide position and either dropping Granero or placing him elsewhere (in lieu of Alonso for example).

  30. "All in all you end up with the same X1 players each time, in different positions..."
    - A reality compounded by the club's signing/marketing policy. As Ulague has suggested, surely Pellegrini could've done without one of Ronaldo - Kaka, especially given the playing philosophy which he was brigning to the club.

    "...What about the Real defence, who would you pick and what part has it got to play? You mention Marcelo/Arbeloa - it reminds me of that old theory that 'the worst player in a good football team is always the right-back'.."
    - Sergio Ramos is simply stagnating. He is one of those players who doesn't look entirely convincing at either centre-back or full-back in a modern back four. Perhaps like Heinze he is a hybrid better suited to playing wide-of-centre in a back three, or else being a man-marker in such retro defensive schemes. Either way he is reckless. Arbeloa, whatever his attacking limitations does give you that defensive security and solidity that traditionally was the first responsibility expected of the role. At any rate, when Madrid play with either of Marcelo and Ramos, having Arbeloa as almost a third centre-back is almost a blessing given the meanderings of the other pair.

  31. @ ULegue,

    thanks for plugging this site on the Guardian article.

    I'm reticent to provide links for it when I'm posting on there, as they tend to regard this as spam. Also, I don 't want to be taken for a leech!

    So your messages of support for this is most welcome, and ultimately more valuable than my own trumpet-blowing, so thanks again.



  32. sure thing problem! I kind of knew/felt that you're not of the self-promoter type but since your blogpost was excellent and fitting into the discussion, I thought it would be a great addition to it.

  33. Thanks for your replies Roberticus. I will post at greater length later but now the wife is nagging me to go and get some pizzas...

  34. Another idea :

    Kaka playing centre-forward when Real haven't got the ball. Ronaldo pushing up when Real have the ball and Kaka coming deep.

    Ronaldo marks the opposition 5 in a central position.

    Then four midfielders : Diarra, Alonso, Granero, Van der Vaart.

    VdV and Granero pressing higher up, Diarra pressing a little deeper and Alonso simply screening.

    Since the entire issue seems to be about playing Ronaldo and Kaka, may as well say 'ok, but no centre-forward' then. And to be fair, Ronaldo and Kaka are sufficient fire-power to be getting along with.

    In this system, when Real have the ball in a slow-building, probing attack, Ronaldo, Kaka and VdV can all switch between flank and centre. Each of them can drop deep.

    In a more quickly constructed attack, Ronaldo pushes right up on the outside shoulder of the centre-back. Kaka comes slightly deeper and the Real midfield spills into one flank and the centre.

    In a lightning-fast counter, Ronaldo starts from a slightly deeper, central position but Kaka's presence in the forward position creates a kind of springboard for him to break beyond the last line of the defence.

  35. The last 3 games of Madrid were what Pellegrini had apparently in mind on how the team should play. He has Marcelo and Diarra as left and right midfields, when not in possesion in order to have support for the fullbacks too, Kaka somewhere between the forwards. When in possesion, it seemed that Diarra moved more to the center and Kaka to one of the more wider positions. The benefit of this is the unpredictability of the team, as also partly visible on the goal Marcelo scored, as he suddenly popped out on the right.
    Obviously Madrid improved but they faced Milan, which are still Milan and after Milan scored the equalizer they were kind of lost for some minutes and Atletico, who don't seem to have what one might call defense or midfield, but even then after 1 goal scored by Atletico, caused Madrid to lose themselves. Nevertheless, first half of the derby was the best Madrid performance in the Calderon for ages.
    Questions arise on what Pellegrini will do once Ronaldo is back? Will he fill in either Benzema or Higuain's role, although he clearly doesn't like it? Or will Ronaldo just be a special team player, with the team being built around Kaka and Ronaldo just once in a while, when things get hard, doing what he does? I don't think that the second option will bear much fruit and although Ronaldo might clearly be the more "desequilibrante" player compared to Higuain, he doesn't have his workrate at all. So maybe Ronaldo's injury was Pellegrini's luck to build a team, as it made it a bit easier for him, or at least it seems to be.

  36. Yeah Ulegué,

    that's a good description of how they seem to be playing now, with Marcelo and Lass helping out their respective full-backs defensively.

    Btw, did you read the interview with Baresi in El País? His analysis of Madrid is interesting; here's the link...

    Yes, I think Ronaldo will have to take one of the two striker positions, preferably that of the second-striker (which seems to be Higuaín), the guy who makes those wide runs. Though oddly enough, I would've thought that Higuain is better suited to playing centrally than is Benzema - the Frenchman can't resist making those wide-runs and getting involved in the build-up play.

  37. Hi John,

    interesting your suggestion that Pellegrini just be damned and play Ronaldo-Kaka up front, then build the rest of the team from midfield backward to his liking.

    That would be a serious option were it not for the presence of Benzema, Higuain, Raul and Ruud demanding playing time.

    But I like your idea. Technically it sounds very workable.

    How would you arrange the midfield and defence then?

  38. Roberticus,

    yes, I read that article. It was quite interesting, I thought the most interesting aspect was that he kind of questioned the sense of having Xabi Alonso. Overall, his interview was very interesting and deep in terms of analyzing problems and issues. It will be interesting to see him become a coach one day.

  39. Ulugue,

    yes, shows that Baresi has a keen footballing brain. A coach one day perhaps?

    Agreed with everything he said except his argument that Felipe Mello was 'technically and physically superior to Xabi Alonso'.

    Physically superior? Ok, sure. Xabi is quite tough and resilient but he is very slow. Mello wins in this department.

    BUt technically superior? Please! Mello has a distinctively average passing range. He is one of those pivotes with llegada but he doesn't really have a cerebral quality to him. I can state that categorically having watched him perform some slapstick and brainless moments in Brazil's qualifiers; giving away penalties, careless backpass leading to a goal etc.

  40. Roberticus

    So you agree also with Baresi's perception that Madrid should use Guti as a mediocentro? If someone came to me with that advice I would think he wants to harm Real Madrid and would get the sack immediately. Guti is mediapunta, never a mediocentro.

  41. In his best season under Schuster he played as a mediocentro though, if I remember right.

  42. Hello Ulague

    "In his best season under Schuster he played as a mediocentro though, if I remember right."

    No, not at all. It was Gago and/or Diarra the ones who were played as mediocentros, but never Guti. Guti doesn't have the conditions to play there. It would be a suicide. We saw that under Queiroz. It simply doesn't work.


    Nice blog this, very enjoyable. Congratulations.

  43. Real Madrid under Schuster used to play Gago or Diarra as mediocentro, a volante in front of that mediocentro (Diarra, Sneijder or Guti) and then a mediapunta (Sneijder or Guti). Guti was never used as a mediocentro under Schuster.

  44. @ Hellohowareyou

    Glad you're enjoying the blog!

    Re: Guti as mediocentro (as per suggested by Baresi).

    I think against Espanyol Guti played as the second pivot alongside Lass and he performed quite well, even getting the odd tackle in. However, would Guti be able to sustain such performances throughout a season and against sides who are more ambitious than Espanyol?

    Pirlo has occassionally played as part of a double pivot for Italy in a 4-2-3-1 and so you'd imagine that this is what Guti's role would resemble were he to take up a similar position.

    I think Baresi's argument is that he would like a dynamic player accompanying the destroyer. I would have thought that Granero (or even Sneijder -had he stayed) is what he has in mind: a player who can initiate attacks and break beyond the midfield, whereas Xabi always stays deep.

    The thing is however, Baresi overlooks the fact that Lass is primarily occupied with running around, clattering into people- a livewire during 90 minutes and so it pays to have someone like Alonso who will actually remain static and occupy that space in front of the defence. Remember how at Liverpool Mascherano would engage the opponents by running ahead of Alonso (especially when disrupting counter-attacks), Xabi's positioning was then vital for recovering possession and restoring order. Would Guti have the positional discipline to do this?

  45. Schuster's Madrid, ah fond memories.

    At times it was indiscernible what they were playing, but the common denominator was that every formation Schuster sent out was assymetric (nothing wrong with that either).

    I recall Sid Lowe's profile of Madrid from back then in World Soccer and he had them down as a 4-1-3-2; the '1' being Gago or Mahmadou Diarra, and the '3' consisting of Sneijder, Van der Vaart/Guti and.. Robben. Which was amazing when you consider that Robben is practically a forward. As such, and I kid you not, this formation was almost identical to the 1970 Brazil set-up. I wonder what were Schuster's instructions for when the players lost the ball. It seems incredible that Madrid won the title that season with such a vulnerable approach, and a damning indictment of the opposition.

  46. Roberticus

    "Would Guti have the positional discipline to do this?"

    From my humble point of view, not at all. Guti is a very brilliant player on his day but terribly limited, terribly inconsistent, and whenever he's been used for that position on the field he's always failed. Espanyol away is probably the exception confirming the rule. And as you said, it's dangerous to think of him as a stable piece for this team considering Real Madrid should also face the Chelseas and Barcelonas of this world in the future.

    On a different note. Do you think that a Madrid with both Lass and Mahamadou on the pitch would work fine in the long term?

  47. Roberticus

    I think you got it wrong with the side that won the league.

    Because Van der Vaart wasn't still there, and Robinho was. Van der Vaart arrived in his second season when Schuster barely had any stability due to both long and short term injuries affecting lots of players. The side that won the league had Casillas Ramos Cannavaro Pepe Marcelo Heinze Gago Diarra Guti Sneijder Robinho Raul RVN and Robben as the 14 players who were used most often.

  48. Ah yes,

    I was confusing the 07/08 and the 08/09 sides.

    Thanks for that.

    Either way, they were incredibly imbalanced, tilting towards the left.

  49. Roberticus:

    I think a nice 4-diamond-2 could work well. Alonso holding, Diarra and Granero left and right, and VdV at the tip.

    Defence aligned with real wing backs would thus be ok, since defensively Diarra, Alonso and Granero can always cover.

    Can't do anything about Ramos' poor form though, but if Ronaldo plays to the right on the counter attack, it wouldn't be an issue if Arbeloa played - if Granero is really this kind of multi-purpose midfielder he should be able to play down the right with the full-back and Ronaldo when building attacks.

    Also means that when Marcelo pushes up very high, the left centre back can slide across a bit knowing there is cover on the right.

  50. By the way Roberticus I 100% agree with your analysis of Benzema's tendency to drift into supporting positions.

    This is particularly hilarious when he plays for France : both he and Henry have a penchant for hugging the same corridor on the left hand side of the pitch, literally tripping over eachother. If ever two players were incompatible...

    Going back to my diamond formation, I think there are two main issues :

    1 : Ronaldo is not a target man, he could be hypothetically (he has the power and technique) but he hasn't played there often enough, and probably lacks that hard man element where you can keep getting punished for 90 minutes without your head dropping. Kaka is even less the target man. So you run the risk of having games when the opposition defenders sit deep even when they have the ball - no counter attacks possible, and every time Real try to break out of their box they are smothered because the midfield knows Kaka and Ronaldo cannot win the long ball.

    2 : Kaka's acceleration leaves a bit to be desired. Leaves an element of predictability given that the final ball will always have to be to CR.

    But I really don't see how with the players Real have, they can build a team with the harmony of Barca. But then Barca might be about to scupper all that by swapping Toure for Mascherano! (I don't think that will work... just for example : average height of the team? About 1m46 - I think Chelsea (or even Stoke!) will have a field day :) )...

  51. Hi John,

    -Mascherano for Toure; I share your concerns about his height - in every other way El Jefecito is probably the best defensive mid in the world, but you would want your '5' to be tall enough to intercept aerial balls between the two centre backs, especially since Puyol and Pique spread so wide across the face of goal.

    - Diamond of Alonso: Lass and Granero: Van der Vaart.
    I like your bank of three here...I actually think that its base is the only area where Alonso can play across the midfield, since he lacks mobility required to play away from the centre and assist the full-backs. Ahead of them in the mediapunta lies Van der Vaart's natural position of course; I'd really like to see him arise from his slumber and see the best of his football - he seemed to be the only player in anyway arsed against Alcorcón so he must be trying to win back his place on the team.

    My problem then is not that one of Cristiano or Kaka has to play as a second striker up front, but that both of them inevitably must start. Ronaldo and Kaka as a strike partnership? And galactico politics dictates that at least one more striker (from Benzema, Higuain, Raul and Ruud) must be shoehorned into the starting XI.

  52. Hello folks,
    I'll be posting a new article this weekend, but before I do here is a throwaway question for you to chew on:

    what do you make of Spain's new home kit?

  53. 1980's retro. Very nice in long sleeve and even as an England supporter hopefully they don't fall for the same under achievement.

  54. it looked good when I saw it in the stadium in Vienna. And although Silva doesn't score too many goals, it would be an incredible joy to watch him play for Barca. He would just be a perfect fit on whatever position.

  55. RE: Spain's strip,

    I preferred the two previous kits, both being a dark red and navy blue with gold trim combination: I guess to me they looked more regal and imposing.

    The new one seems bright cherry red and light blue, which brings me back to the failures of the 1980s (although back then there were black socks added to the mix).

    But it is a World Cup year and I suppose that Adididas and the RFEF need to sell merchandise.

  56. any idea on how Madrid will play tomorrow? I thought the article by futbolitis that Pellegrini always plays the same players was also interesting. If I was him and could pick the players I wanted, I would play with Lassana as a rightback, Pepe, Albiol/Garay, Arbeloa in defense, and use the other Diarra as a DM to give Xabi Alonso more freedom. The rest of the team would be filled with Kaka, Ronaldo/Higuain, Marcelo and Benzema/Ronaldo, depending on my mood, but one "referente" in attack is needed. I would however only play that line-up expecting Barcelona to play with Iniesta-Ibra-Messi in attack. Obviously, the key will be the midfield and if Iniesta plays, he will again be deployed somewhere between the lines, which, if Pellegrini plays with Ramos and Arbeloa as fullbacks, would make one of them completely useless and take them out of the game. With both Diarras, that problem would be less. However, Madrid so far have been a terrible team defending without the ball, and that line-up wouldn't give them that much possession. Anyway, it will be interesting to see which line-up comes up for Madrid.

  57. Going to Barcelona and playing to have possession is suicidal. Where Real Madrid may have a great chance on is that they have dynamic players (assuming all are fit) in Ronaldo, Kaka and I would choose Higuain. Counter and attack quick down the channels is Madrid's best bet and these lot could cause great problems.

    Alonso must play as the main pivot, and one may be inclined to play two destroyers. I hate them but the two Diarra's will run around and can win ball but expect no real possession.

    Maybe try one of the Diarra's, use Granero slightly to the right and Kaka behind the main forward but that may mean losing some dynamism down wing. On the other hand that could open up space for Higuain to use the channels and Kaka to get late in the box, unmarked.

  58. Hi Roberticus. I'm a huge fan of your work and really enjoyed this post on Real. I've set up my own nominally tactics-based blog recently, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on some of my ideas. Keep up the excellent work. Cheers, Tom

  59. Hi Tom,

    I look forward to reading your material



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