Real Madrid's key to success: The 'B' team
The 2016/17 season was Real Madrid's most successful campaign in 59 years, bagging the top two trophies on offer. The players were going fresh into the business end of the season, and that was down to the brilliant rotation Zinedine Zidane had implemented.
This season, Real will try to improve on their spectacular last season by adding the trophy they had missed the last term; the King's Cup. James Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata, and Danilo, played their part in keeping Real Madrid fighting on all fronts when the first-team regulars took the backseat. This summer, all three have moved to different clubs in search of regular first team football. And considering their potential, the choices they made are hardly controversial.
Reinforcements were brought in. Dani Ceballos, the U21 EURO sensation, who was the star man for Betis last season, will try to fill in the Colombian's void. Now, the logical question here would be how a 21-year-old central midfielder can be a flamboyant no. 10's replacement. The answer to this is found in how Real Madrid operate under Zidane.
In their current formation, they don't have a place for a fancy number 10; they rely on their central-midfielders for penetration through the middle. And Dani, being a natural, would fit in just fine.
Borja Mayoral was called back to take the mantle from Alvaro Morata. And in this case, as well, there are some glaring differences. Morata has the physicality and stubbornness to lead the charge, sometimes recklessly, like a traditional centre-forward does. Mayoral, on the other hand, likes to take his time, look for better alternatives, and would gladly lay the ball off.
The latter's approach is close to what Karim Benzema does with Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season, Morata and Benzema complemented each other brilliantly; one with his directness, and the other, with his ability to bring others into the match. Asensio and Vasquez acted like traditional wingers with Morata in the middle.
Mayoral’s unselfish nature will ask more out of Asensio and Vazquez, offensively. Zizou has shown immense faith in the young guns of Madrid, and when a coach, despite having all the resources in the world, keeps trusts an academy graduate, the resulting gratitude, more often than not, leads to something fantastic.
Last season, Casemiro was the only central defensive midfielder in Madrid's ranks, which made 'the Vikings' vulnerable when he was out with an injury or serving a suspension. Marcos Llorente, who was sensational for Alaves, has returned from loan to solve this issue.
He is technically superior to Casemiro, an excellent passer of the ball, and could elevate Madrid to a higher brand of football. We haven’t seen much of him in the pre-season fixtures, as he was serving his country in the U21 Euro, but Zizou’s aggressive rotation policy will most certainly give him his fair share of chances.
In defence, Theo Hernandez will work under the tutelage of Marcelo, ensuring that the Brazilian gets to keep himself fit for the tougher ties. Theo has blistering pace and is one of the most versatile players on the roster. But Madrid depend heavily on crosses in order to get on the scoresheet. And that is one aspect Theo needs to work on. He zips in the crosses with enough intent, but more often than not, lacks accuracy. He has expressed his desire to learn from Marcelo, and when you’re learning from the best left-back in the world, improvement can be visible in just a matter of time.
Danilo’s departure to Manchester City has handed Achraf Hakimi, the 18-year-old Castilla right-back, an early promotion. Zidane believes the youngster has the quality to play second fiddle to Dani Carvajal and that he could turn out to be one of the finest full-backs in the coming years.
The pressure of performing in front of a packed Bernabeu is always a daunting task, a task even some of the most sought after players could not perform. Hakimi, however, would not look at the things which could go wrong. He would take the ticket to immortality; a chance to be a favourite in the most prestigious club in the world at a city he grew up in. And something tells us that he will not disappoint.
Pepe’s gigantic shoes have found a new owner, Jesus Vallejo. After a spectacular season with Eintracht Frankfurt, Zidane has called the 20-year-old back to solidify Madrid’s often error-prone backline. Jesus joined Real Madrid from Zaragoza for €5 million in 2015 and has managed to maintain an exponential graph until this point. There is certainly an anticipation to see how he copes, when he puts on the most prestigious kit in Europe.
Madrid’s key to success has been their unparalleled depth, how they have managed to build the most impressive squad in the world without spending a fortune, how they have the best blend of the finest young talents and proven world beaters. This Madrid feels different.
They are not overly dependent on a certain Portuguese anymore; they are a team now, a team which does not give in. And the insatiable desire to win, even after having bagged the biggest trophies, makes this team unique. There are no 'B' teams or 'A' teams; there are no names on the back anymore, but just a crest and an anthem to live by -- "Hala Madrid Y Nada Mas".