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For the Real Madrid fans, 2019 hasn’t been the year of joy. The first half of the year was quite miserable for the team as fans looked forward to the summer, pretty much from February onwards after they crashed out of Europe and Copa del Rey. But the summer has been quite bittersweet. What began as a promising era with four quickfire signings, has turned into an anxious scenario.

The pre-season has resulted in four draws in five games with one penalty shootout win against Arsenal. The team has shipped in 16 goals whilst just scoring 11. There hasn’t been any visible improvement in the form and Eden Hazard has been the only new addition to the starting 11 in this year’s ‘revolution’. Marco Asensio who was finally set to have his breakout year with the indisputable berth on the right flank was cruelly sidelined for a year after suffering an ACL injury in the game against Arsenal.

Impact and subsequent dominoes

In a team that is goal anaemic, Asensio was the automatic first choice for Zidane on the right flank. His ability to run at the defenders, cut inside and shoot or pass was perfect for Real Madrid’s system. His injury has suddenly set the panic among the Madridistas due to the lack of a quality right-winger who is ready to step up. In theory, Madrid has a lot of wingers on their books: Vinícius Jr, Takefusa Kubo, Rodrygo Goes, Lucas Vasquez, and Brahim Díaz. But in reality, going with these options as the first choice for the season isn’t without its fair share of the drop in quality.

Brahim has only had a less than six-month sample size on the highest level of football at the back end of last season. While promising, he is nowhere near in his development stage to take up a starter role. Kubo and Rodrygo have both looked great in the pre-season and have been the few bright spots this summer. But both of them are non-EU residents and cannot be registered to the first-team squad this year. They have been registered with Castilla to help with their promotion push under Raúl González this year. Zidane plans to give them sporadic minutes in the team to help with their development and to ease them into European football. As for Lucas Vasquez, he is at best a mid-tier winger who is an excellent squad player but nothing more.

But what about Bale and James?

In a perfect world: yes, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez would be the perfect ready-made replacements for Asensio. Both are world-class players with the ability to score or assist goals regularly. They also bring in the quality to be decisive and turn the game on its head. Perfect, right? Not when it comes to Real Madrid. Bale had a falling out with Zinedine Zidane when the Frenchman left last year and his return hasn’t changed anything. Zidane has publicly come out and said that Bale isn’t part of his plans and he does not consider the Welshman the part of his squad next season. Bale’s agent has publicly spoken out against Zidane repeatedly while looking for a move to China. Even though the move fell through, it is highly unlikely that the winger will play any role in the upcoming season.

As for the case of James, the writing has been on the wall ever since he left for Bayern Munich in search of the game time. The Colombian was widely expected to join either Napoli (who are struggling to meet Madrid’s asking price) or Atlético Madrid. The transfer to Atlético was set to go through but the 7-3 thrashing that Los Blancos received at the hand of Atlético Madrid in the pre-season game halted the move. It set the alarm bells ringing at the lack of firepower available to Real Madrid. This has been followed by the reports that Rodriguez is set to stay at Madrid for the upcoming season. Zidane would be quite sensible to put aside his differences with the Colombian, as James has a proven track record of providing a goal per game output while playing on the right-wing. In fact, his best season came under Carlo Ancelotti in 2014/15 when he played on the right in a 4-4-2, a formation Zidane has played this pre-season.

We seem to be forgetting a name here…

That’s right. There is another option for Zidane in terms of the breakout player of last year: Vinícius Jr. The Brazilian lit up the left wing on fire last year as he torched rival right-backs on the way to the goal. But Vinícius is quite young and his game seems more suited to the left-wing. The Brazilian’s predominant move to attack the goal is to regularly cut inside near the penalty box after using his skill-set to beat the right-back. From there he either passes or looks for a through ball. Zidane has tried to play Vinícius on the right-wing this pre-season after the arrival of Eden Hazard on the left and Asensio’s injury. The result has been quite underwhelming. Playing him on the right has taken away the main facet of his skill and the Brazilian has struggled to attack the goal more effectively. It has further diminished his already poor goal-scoring ability.

But it’s still very early to make a definitive judgment on this experiment. The youngster is extremely talented. He already struggled to score goals last year. But if he can bring his threat to create chances from last season to the right-wing, there isn’t a better person to step up in light of Asensio’s injury.

Could they sign anyone?

Highly unlikely. They have already spent over €300 million this summer. If Florentino Perez decides to open his chequebook again this summer, it’ll only be for Van de Beek or Paul Pogba.

having spent so much time and money to scout and sign the most promising young talent around the world, Perez will expect the insanely talented youngsters to step up this season and stake their claim for the role on the right flank. Whatever the option they go for, it’s quite certain, it won’t be an easy task replacing Marco Asensio.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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