Friday, July 24, 2009

Weighing The Summer Transfers: Will Real Dethrone Barca?

Well, it's been quite a summer. Real Madrid have spent an ungodly 214 million Euros. So yeah, I think they were slightly affected by that 6-2 shellacking at the Bernabeu in May.

To be honest though (and I say this fully aware that this could come back to bite me in the ass), I'm really not worried. Well, let me qualify that. Kaka worries me. Albiol is worthy of respect. But Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema? Not so much. Let me explain why.

On Ronaldo, I know I'm going to be accused of irrational Messi-induced bias, but I really don't think he's one of the world's five best players. I feel safe in saying that were I to start a team from scratch today, I would take each of Messi, Iniesta, Kaka, Essien, and Gerrard above him. I know some of our readers will disagree (vehemently) but that's just the way I feel. For all the talk about how he's a complete player, he is actually incapable of doing two things every "complete" player does easily: make a simple pass if it's the right thing to do, and track back. The former will not be a massive problem at Real because he will play as a forward. The latter will be because, last I checked, Real's central midfield is still decidedly average by top-European-club standards, and none of the strike-force (including Kaka) are going to track back. This is a problem because in Spain, possession is more valuable and at a greater premium, so you have to work harder to get it back. If you don't, you can be in trouble.

More to the point, I think Ronaldo is easily -- easily -- the most selfish player I've ever seen. This may have been okay back at Old Trafford where the whole world revolved around him and his wishes. The way Sir Alex Ferguson played guys like Park (!) in big games, the way Rooney, the poor sod, basically played as a wing back in away games in Europe, the formation, everything.

This, lest you be under any misconceptions, will not be the case at Real, where he will be only one of several massive egos. Again, I know this could come back to bite me in the ass, but I was really, really glad when Real signed him, because I figured that's the best and easiest chance for dressing room disaster. You think guys like Raul and Kaka and will be as deferential? Fat chance. Good luck to Pellegrini, who by all accounts is a good man, but will have his work cut out. In sum, I don't really fear Ronaldo; I think United having a good season this year (which I also predict) will puncture this Ronaldo myth that's been built up over the last couple of years.

As for Benzema, I haven't seen too much of him, but whatever I have seen, I've been impressed by. But then again, I could have said the same thing about Higuain! I mean, does this purchase make any sense? I almost think it was just to spite Barca, who wanted the Frenchman to replace Eto'o (more on that in a minute). So while I think Benzema is a good player and could possibly becme great, I don't see the value he adds to Real, unless they're planning on getting rid of Higuain (which would be very stupid).

So that's my basic synopsis of Real's spending: kudos on the Kaka purchase, and a big fat we'll-see on everything else. They will be better in May 2010 than they were in May 2009. But with the number of massive changes in their set-up, I'm not so sure they will be better from August to December 2009 than they were in the middle of last season, when they won 18 out of 19 games and kept the pressure on Barca. If they start off slow as they try to figure things out, they could end up dropping too many points for it to matter anyway (though titles are never won before Christmas, they can damn well be lost).

As for Barca, well, it's been a quiet transfer season, has it not? They signed Maxwell (a defender from Inter) and have probably (though not confirmed) pulled off Ibra-for-Eto'o-plus-lots-of-money, which is probably too much, but then again, the way City and Real have inflated prices, and the eagerness with which Pep wants to see the back of Eto'o, you do what you have to. In a perfect world, Barca would have signed David Villa (who wanted to come, and who would have been a better fit from a stylistic standpoint), but Valencia were being dicks about it, so whatever. The upside of Ibra is that he gives Barca a Plan B -- the absence of which almost undid them against Chelsea, and did cause them to lose to United two years ago. When you combine this with the signing of Brazilian striker from Keirrison (who will be on loan this year), as well as the ascension of Gai Assulin from the youth ranks this year (ultra-talented product whose Youtube videos you should really check out), I think Barca will be ok up front, despite the departure of La Liga top scorer over the last five years (not to mention a goal scorer in two Champions League finals).

The problem, as I see it, will be in central midfield. With the African Cup of Nations in the middle of the season, Keita and Yaya Toure will be gone for a significant portion of the season. And with Iniesta and Xavi basically having played football for two straight years without a break, Barca's midfield is an accident waiting to happen. If one of Xavi or Iniesta suffer an injury then what, pray tell, are Barca supposed to do? This is why the failed bid for Ribery is such a big deal -- more than all this Eto'o/Villa/Ibra nonsense, Ribery was the real target this summer. He could have played in the midfield with those two, substituted one of them, and played in Henry's position too, since the latter is getting up there in age. As it stands, the midfield situation is very dicey. Incidentally, Mascherano still remains a possibility, and were he to hop over, I'd feel a lot more comfortable.

Actually, one thing that Pep could (but won't) do to lessen the load on the team is play a 4-4-1-1, with Messi in the hole just behind Ibra, and given room to float. Pep could play Yaya Toure, Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta in a quasi-diamond, giving them less area to cover. This will also have the added benefit of moving Henry to the bench, because I don't think he can play 40 games again this year. I don't think Pep will actually do this, but it might be worth a thought.

So with all that said, I would say Barca still start the season as favorites, as long as they stay healthy. In Europe, as always, anything can happen. In fact, I predict that Real will actually do better in Europe than in Spain -- I don't know why, I just have a feeling. But, as a Barca fan, would anything be sweeter than winning the Champions League again? You know where the final is next year, right?

Prediction time.

Top five in La Liga: Barca, Sevilla, Real, Villareal, Atletico
Copa del Rey: Who the hell knows?
Champions League: Chelsea
Number of meltdowns in Real dressing room: 4
Number of times Mourinho asks himself why he always ends up with headcases as center-forwards: 17
Number of times the W asks "where's Guardiola?" when I'm watching Barca on the weekend: 32
Number of times I roll my eyes at aforementioned question: 32
Number of times I doubt my sexuality when I see Messi: 412

11 comments:

AKS said...

couple of quick points.

I still think Barca are the better team but lets not get carried away. Barca had a magnificent season but Madird's wasn't all that bad either. Their tally of 78 points would have won them the title in 6 of the last 10 seasons.

Their biggest problems may lie in the dressing room, but if there's a team that has a history of knowing how to handle big egos its Madrid (though when it goes bad, it really does go BAD).

Its bloody ridiculous to claim that Ronaldo isn't in the top 5 players of the world. He's most certainly been better, and more influential, than Gerrard over the last two seasons. I'd even grudgingly admit that he's probably the second best player in the world.

Madrid could certainly pip Barca for the title. And Arsenal are winning the champions league - we need to qualify for next season's CL somehow!

Ali K. said...

Agree with you on the Benzema Higuain comparison. They are very similar players and with all due respect to Benz, I would say that Higuain is currently the better and more proven player. Some of his performances last season and the year before have single handedly saved Real's face.


As far as tracking back being as issue for Ronaldo in spanish football. I can't really see where you are coming from. Wingers in Spain track back Less than those in England or Italy. Thats one of the reasons why the play is usually so open. I mean really when was the last time you saw robben, silva, capel, joaquin track back for the most of the game?

The problem is going to be for Kaka just like it was for Zidane. Hes going to have to play a bit deeper and will have the ball at his feet usually a lot more down the field than he normally did.

The reason Real will fail will be a lack of defensive organization. They're going to be all over the place defensively. I expect the wingbacks to be caught out pretty often. And I have doubts about pelligrini. Like Ranieri he likes a rigid the 4-4-2 a but too much. There is no way Real can fit into a rigid 4-4-2 and acommodate Kaka and Ronaldo without being unbalanced.

Barca will be lucky next season if they keep Messi fit. I'm not sure how Ibra gives Barca a solid plan B. He can hold the ball up but I wouldn't put too much currency in him turning long balls into goals and assists. Plus hes tends to become too static unlike Etoo and Henry who even on their worst days have great movement and make good runs. It would be interesting to see how he fits well, I hope he does but fear he may not.

Maxwell may well turn out to be a super signing. I don't like Abidal much and can't believe Domenech played him over Evra.

Sevilla in the top five over Valencia? Gutsy call, I doubt it especially if Fabiano leaves.

Ahsan said...

AKS:

Valid points all, except for the Ronaldo bit. But since I have no way of convincing people of this, let's just agree on a quasi bet: if United finish top two in England this year, will it be fair to say Ronaldo isn't top 5? Because I guarantee you, if you remove any of Messi, Iniesta, Kaka, Essien or Gerrard from their teams, there's no way they'll be good enough to maintain their rough position in their respective tables. United's rough position has been top 2 for the last several years, so if there's no drop off, then can we agree on this? If United finish well behind the top two in England, then I will come back and eat humble pie.

Ali K:

I know, I just wanted to spite Valencia for their dickishness with the David Villa transfer! In truth, I think they're better than Atletico for sure (don't know about the others), but they really pissed me off this summer. So fuck 'em.

As for the wingers tracking back thing, fine fair enough, but my argument was only that GIVEN Real's midfield isn't absolutely top-notch, they'll need all the help they can get in winning and maintaining possession. And CR7 and Kaka are not about to provide that help. I think you'll agree with me that possession is more "valuable" in Spain than England because teams don't hoof it up and turn it over as easily.

As for the Ibra thing, I trust Pep to make him fit the style. I trust Pep with anything, except I suppose close female family members.

Ali K. said...

Agreed, possession in the name of the game in Spain. Real's fundamental problem is not going to be lack of quality in midfield. Diarra is as good a DM as any. And has formidable partners in Gago, Sneijder and more likely than not maybe Alonso.

The problem as I said before will be defensive organization. I'd play 3 in the midfield if I were pelligrini. Diarra, Gago and Sneijder/Alonso. And play Ronaldo and RVN as strikers and Kaka in the hole. RVN to be central as he usually is with Ronaldo coming in from whichever wing catches his fancy. I can't see a better solution to the Kaka-Ronaldo problem without fundamentally unbalancing the team.

Ahad said...

Ahsan, your bet with AKS doesn't sound right to me. United may very well end up in the top 2. In fact they are still favorites for the consider. Consider the contenders. Arsenal have sold Adebayor. Chelsea haven't gotten that 'marquee' signing; Ancelloti unproven in league. Liverpool might very well be without Alonso and Mascherano come start of the season. In fact, United buys are cheap as they have been have been shrewd.

Also they won the last league because of their squad being bustier than LA boobs. THey have only added to that through Obertan, Owen and Valencia.

Also Ronaldo as super-important as he has been for United, dont forget Tevez and all his "work-rate". The argentinian will be missed too (especially for his late, crucial goal ala vs Lyon, Rovers, Stoke, etc ettc)

Ahsan said...

Ahad:

I agree that United will be favorites/joint favorites. But that's my exact point: how can a team lose the so-called best player in the world and still finish exactly (or near) where they finished last season?

I think if you take out the five guys I mentioned (Messi, Iniesta, Essien, Gerrard, Kaka) from their teams, they will all drop off considerably (as Milan will find out this year).

karachi khatmal said...

"how can a team lose the so-called best player in the world and still finish exactly (or near) where they finished last season? "

because the rest of the league sucks balls...

make the same bet for the champion's league to make it interesting

zeyd said...

Had to throw in a prediction eh? Asshole.


Barring a rash of injuries, the league is Barcas. They're full of confidence, playing well, and have a lot of belief. Also, and this will be a factor, after the domination of last season, you'll find more and more teams willing to lay over and die, as is often the case in leagues all over.

Madrid will need time, and a bit (wait, a lot!) more steel in defense. They were consistently all over the place last season. Them finishing second and running Barca so close just highlights how weak some of the other teams are.

However, if anything, the smaller clubs will be even more raring to go against Madrid after the influx of galacticos. And the pressure on Madrid will be intense; a couple of lame performances and the press will have a field day.

Can't believe you put Stevie Me in the top 5. Positionally, he's one of the poorest players I've ever seen who's touted as world class. The amount of times I've seen him rushing back to tackle a player, that was his to mark in the first place, is just remarkable.

In terms of technique, fitness, goals, assists, defense, staying on his feet (that's for you Gerrard, you hypocritical diving wanker!) and professionalism, give me Lampard any day of the week. It's amazing how often Lamps is ignored. Just look at his stats:

03/04: 15 goals
04/05: 19
05/06: 20
06/07: 21
07/08: 20
08/09: 20

That's 115 goals in 6 seasons. Find me any midfielder in the world (Gerrard's a CF, not a midfielder; his positional play is far too weak to play him in midfield) that has stats like those. Anyone?

Oh and Lamps played every minute of every single fucking league game last season, bar 1 (the last one which he was rested for; had to go and score the winner in the FA cup a week later after all).

And that's not even mentioning his assists, link-up play, leadership, and discipline. Essien is a machine, but without Lampard, Chelsea would be half the team they are.

Ahsan said...

KK:

Haha I would, but the CL is such a crap shoot that anything can happen. But I do think United will be there and there abouts.

Zeyd:

Come on dude, do you really expect me to put TWO Chelsea players in my top 5?

zeyd said...

Ahsan: Haha, no, but you could easily have put 3 from Barca and included Xavi ahead of Gerrard. Xavi's definitely up there.

lala pathan said...

It takes time to built a team and teams win trophies not players. I think madrid now has more ego in its players then any other team and they will clash of and on the pitch . nevertheless i think BARCA will be strong and better . either way ELCLASSICO is going to be cllasic :)VIVA LA RESISTANCE !