Pitchside

‘Imperious’ Madrid still have it all to prove

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Real Madrid‘s demolition of Sevilla in their European Super Cup final was hugely impressive. They looked imperious. And they were – but against the fifth best side in Spain. A side shorn of last season’s best player, Ivan Rakitic - now of Barcelona.

Sevilla finished last season 27 points off champions Atletico Madrid but just 24 points shy of the relegation zone; in other words, they were closer to relegation than the title. A pretty sobering thought that brings some context to Madrid’s ‘imperious’ performance.

Sift though the hyperbole and an uncomfortable truth may present itself: Florentino Perez’s Galactico obsession may have, in fact, weakened Carlo Ancelotti’s hand going into this campaign.

What Perez fails to comprehend is that a team of 11 superlative players does not always equate to a superlative team. The sum of the parts tends to be the differential over the course of the season. For proof, Perez must only look to cross-town rivals Atletico.

The Galactico ideology puts less value than it should on the merits of a player as lavishly talented as Xabi Alonso. It is quite serious folly to underestimate Alonso’s contribution to last season’s successes. For one must only compare Madrid’s winter form when Alonso was injured to their spike in performances upon his return for evidence of his importance.

Madrid are apparently willing to listen to offers for Alonso, which, even for a club with a transfer strategy as slipshod as theirs, is remarkably remiss.

Angel Di Maria is also not deemed worthy of Galactico status; despite being a flair player of some repute, as evidenced by a remarkable 17 assists last season. That was more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. Marry those assists with an insatiable work rate, and, at any other club, the Argentine would be indispensable.

However, this is Real Madrid.

Despite this body of evidence, Perez elected to effectively replace both players during the close season. Critical cogs in a well-oiled machine dispensed, jettisoned for the more in vogue Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez.

This is not to disparage either player. According to WhoScored.com, Kroos, for example, had 100 touches (the most in the game) and a 96 per cent pass success rate (the best of all the players) during the Super Cup. Furthermore it is not unreasonable to argue that Kroos is a more talented player than Alonso.

However, Alonso’s ambidextrous passing range at the point of Madrid’s midfield brought an identity to this side last season. Can Kroos do the same? Possibly, but not definitely.

The Di Maria-James conundrum is a little less nuanced. For all his undoubted talent, it is very difficult to see how James can improve upon Di Maria’s endeavours. Harsh but true. He must at least match the 17 assists that Di Maria contributed last season, and, put bluntly, he will do exceptionally well to get anywhere near that total.

And therein lies the issue with Perez’s transfer policy. There is very little logic to it. There is no logic to it, in fact. A team that had just won the Champions League did not require the major surgery that has been imposed upon Ancelotti. Change should have been allowed to develop.

Perez has taken an unnecessary risk by splurging so heavily. Kroos and James are outstanding players but Real were already an outstanding team. Whether their purchases will improve the team further is open to serious question. And that question cannot be answered in one comfortable win against a pretty ordinary outfit.

So let’s put the hyperbole to one side for a minute. Madrid put in a great performance in the Super Cup but this new look side will do extremely well to match the heights of the 2013-14 vintage.

Marcus Foley

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