Madrid’s off-season followed the same pattern as the prior year: big signings, but also big departures. Fans were sad to say goodbye to fleet-footed Angel Di Maria and midfield metronome Xabi Alonso. However, plenty were eager to see Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, and even Chicharito. Still, despite the arrival of talent, fans asked: how would these players fit into Carlo’s tactical scheme? And could they excel at Madrid?
Real Madrid still trail Barcelona in La Liga, but the goals are raining down in Biblical proportions. Last summer, Carlo sold Ozil and shelved Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1. He also slowly decreased the minutes of Ozil and, at season’s end, fielded a 4-3-3 with no playmaker at all. The goal was to get Bale and Ronaldo forward where they could combine with Benzema. The problem was not overexposing the defense. Last season, Madrid won the Decima and King’s Cup, so by results it was a success. However, there was one problem: Carlo loves goalscoring central midfielders.
Enter James “Baby-faced Killer” Rodriguez. Fans will have noticed that the merengues have sold assist-machines Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria. Why? Both are fine players. Ozil has an eye for the killer pass, while Di Maria’s bustle often opens up space for teammates. Still, neither offered a consistently killer shot from outside the box comparable to Modric. Thus, while Madrid could create danger once the ball was worked wide to Bale or Ronaldo last season, the team lacked a viable Plan B.
Rodriguez has filled that role dutifully and donned a fine pair of shooting boots. Luka Modric has also gotten forward more consistently this year – his goal against Villareal was a wonderful strike. Of course, Modric and Rodriguez can get forward because of the hard work done by Toni Kroos. The German may lack the passing range of Alonso, but his perpetual movement and ping-pong passing have given Madrid an outlet not seen since Claude Makelele’s days.
Based on the early results, Madrid is on solid ground. In La Liga, they’re scoring plenty of goals and winning away from home: both of which are crucial to a title run. The Undécima may be a bridge too far, but La Liga is firmly in the merengue‘s sights.