The first season of Mourinho’s tenure as Galacticos manager produced some really interesting moments; and contrary to the popular belief, not all of them were off the field.
This season, the mantra has been of that of versatility. Although the players were largely the same throughout the season, the way in which their roles were different for each match makes for an interesting reading.
As I said earlier in the season in this article, Real are eternally damned. No matter what, Real will always be criticized. Even before the ‘Clasico’ series against Barcelona, Real had scored 72 goals in 31 La Liga games and 34 goals in 12 games of UCL, almost 2.5 goals per game. Not bad for a ‘defensive side’, one would say. If not for the goals, then criticism centers around their ‘physical’ style of play; if not play, then for winning ‘just’ the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona. However, this season was as successful as a rational man could expect the first time around, and as put in numbers by Bassam at RealMadridFootballblog.com, this season was a fairly successful one.
There is only “One” Captain
Mourinho, for all the flak he received, inherited a very broken side. No wingers(except Ronaldo), no genuine playmaker (Kaka rarely showed his true talent), an inconsistent defense with an even more inconsistent Marcelo, and a supremely talented but misfiring Benzema.
Amidst all this were the usual boardroom and backroom shenanigans that Mourinho had to contend with. However, he won all these battles and set about building a solid foundation. This aspect will be covered in the second part of this series.
To the casual observer, Mourinho always played 4-2-3-1. To the more discerning eye, however, there were some very subtle variations that Mourinho tried. The experimenting had to be tempered in a season, where immediate success had to be balanced with building a team for the future. These variations were limited to a few players only, and the others usually played a fixed role throughout the season.
He is the player who passes under the radar, and hence I will analyze him first and in some detail.
Superficially, he played in one role and one position all season long. Yet his duties varied a lot of times. More often than not, he was the destroyer whose job was to shield the back four. But he was often given the license to drive forward with the ball and support the playmaker in the middle. He acted as a foil for the playmakers, and his physicality ensured that he advanced a fair distance down the centre of the pitch before letting go of the ball. The prime example of this was the CDR final against Barcelona as the zonalmarking article shows. After the 1-0 victory, he was out injured for the next two matches in UCL, and this was the very reason the match looked much more in Barcelona’s favor.
While Pepe was breaking up the play and Alonso would sit deep, Khedira would run with the ball through the centre and then pass the ball to Ozil, who would then spray it out wide for Di Maria or Ronaldo to run onto. It is no coincidence that this was the only match against Barcelona where Ozil looked lively throughout. Real missed him, and missed him badly, in UCL.
Versatility: 8.5. Seemingly innocuous and one-dimensional, he is extremely versatile.
Overall Season Verdict: 8.25.
Keeps things simple and effective. Simply put: A supremely valuable player and made important contributions throughout the season without hogging the limelight.
As a Centre back: Pepe had the same role that Pique and Lucio play for their teams – bring the ball out and initiate attacks as far as possible, and at the same time do his primary duties as a CB.
As a defensive midfielder: Truly, the surprise of the season. Here he was deployed as a man marker to Messi. Messi failed to score from open play, till he was “taken off” by a bizarre red card and there can be no better testament to his work than this solitary fact.
Overall Season Verdict: 8.5. A stellar season.
A beast in defense and knows his job by heart, despite all protestations to the contrary by Barcelona. The occasional temper flares are the only flaw in his otherwise perfect display of defensive duties.
Makelele knew his limitations. Lass does not. This is the whole story of a player who might be leaving very soon. Sometimes doing less is doing more, like not trying a through ball when a simple side pass would do.
On the right side(as a RB or RM): He was usually deployed as a part of trivote or a three-man defensive midfield and on the right side. One suspects it might be because of Ramos’ lack of concentration. Diarra did his job, but always tried to pass like Alonso, which resulted in a lot of lost balls and breaking of attacks.
As a DM: As a DM, while he was good defensively, he did not provide anything more except breaking up of opposition play.
Attack: 3. When he made a superb pass, it was less on account of his technical ability and more on the account of his continued efforts to do the same.
Overall Season Verdict: 7. An average season.
As CAM: This was the role where Ozil was played most of the time, and he excelled in this role. The 33 assists in a single season are mind boggling, to say the very least .
As an inverted winger: The German used his class and sublime first touch to bamboozle the defenders, and played the through balls for the strikers to run onto. He was good at holding up play while on the wings, and brought a sense of calm to a usually hurried display.
Versatility: 9 Excelled in both the roles and one cannot stop admiring this gem.
Defense: 7 A oft missed aspect of his play. He is good at winning the ball back chiefly by using his superb positional sense. But his tackling isn’t too bad either.
Attack: 9. While he was able to hold off the players on wings, paradoxically he was bullied off when in the middle. Makes one think that he, like Ronaldo, needs space to operate.
Overall Season Verdict: 9. An extraordinary season.
None of the Real fans expected him to be this good.
When a player scores 54 goals in 53 matches in a single season, there is not much left to be said in his praise.
As a striker: In a few matches, Ronaldo was deployed as a striker on an experimental basis. Deprived of space to run into using his pace, he failed to do anything of note.
As a winger: When played on either wing
Attack: 15/10. Yes you read that right. He scores 15 out 10 for his attacking prowess. His defensive duties were nonexistent, offered no versatility in terms of position, and yet his performances on the wings are almost magical.
Overall Season Verdict: 9.5. A superhuman season.
The sheer height of that leap and the brute force in the header in CDR final will remain etched in memories for some time to come. A shame he could not win more titles.
This season will serve as the foundation for the next year. All the regulars and squad members are now familiar with their roles. There will be some clear outs, but no major overhauls. Some signings have already been made.
However, not everything is hunky dory.
Marcelo and Ramos are still defensively susceptible. The instance against Lyon, where Ramos failed to hold the line, could have proved very costly indeed. Even at several other moments, his defending left a lot to be desired. He needs to improve a lot defensively, and this will reduce the number of bookings he collects as consequence of his deficiencies. Carvalho too is ageing. However with the capture of Nuri Sahin, there seems to be a replacement for Alonso.
Ozil looks better on the wings. The ideal partner for Alonso is still yet to be found, although Khedira almost seems to be there. Kaka and Canales’ form are still woeful. Di Maria’s decision making is still below average and he falls down far too often.
Overall, if Real can refrain from too much tinkering and give some more first teamers more time, the next season promises to be a bit better than this one. The foundation has been built. It remains to be seen how lofty the building will be.