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Why Real Madrid need to drop one of BBC to improve their record against Barcelona

The famed BBC trio could be the reason for Real Madrid's recent struggles, while a four man-midfield works for Madrid

Bale Benzema Ronaldo
Real Madrid may not entertain the sacrilegious idea of dropping one of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo

Real Madrid is often referred as a team of Galácticos : a collection of the world’s costliest footballers. Real Madrid fans and management want their team to play attacking and exciting football. A 1-0 victory is deemed not good enough by the Bernabéu faithful.  Such is the obsession of playing attacking football that Real Madrid is the only top team in Europe playing without a recognized holding midfielder.

In spite of having some of the best players in the world, Madrid haven’t quite played well against stronger opponents in the past one and a half season. Last season in La Liga Real Madrid managed to win only 4 points out of the possible 18 against teams in the top 4 of the table. They still lost the league by just 2 points.

Similarly, this season Madrid have earned a paltry 1 point out of the possible 9 against teams in the top 4 of the table. Those are definitely not the stats of a world class team.

The holding midfielder conundrum

Bale, Benzema and Cristiano or the BBC are untouchables at Real Madrid, that’s where this problem begins. You cannot accommodate an extra man in midfield with those three playing. Every successful team in Europe has a recognized holding midfielder protecting its defense.  Many people have suggested the possibility of playing Casemiro, the only holding midfielder Madrid has in place of Toni Kroos as BBC are definite starters.

After the humiliating 4-0 loss to Barcelona this season, Jamie Carragher said “This is not a team Rafa would pick, he is playing without a holding midfield player, Rafa would normally play two. Casemiro is his best player this season, he has left him out”

Well let's look at how well Madrid plays with Casemiro

The big games Casemiro started for Real Madrid this season:

Sr. no

         Teams

         Competition

     Score

    Result

    1

        Atletico Madrid

        La Liga

        1-1

     Draw

    2

        Seville

        La Liga

        3-2

     Lost

    3

        Villarreal

        La Liga

        1-0

     Lost

    4

        PSG (Home)

       Champions League

        1-0

     Won

    5

        PSG (Away)

       Champions League

        0-0

     Draw


PSG’s game at home which Madrid luckily won was one of their worst performances of the season. PSG outplayed Madrid and the Bernabeu booed their own team. This game probably started the demise of Rafa Benitez.

Now I don’t solely blame Casemiro for team’s poor performance in these big games. Casemiro is good at defending but he doesn’t have the ball possession ability. He rarely creates chances in attack and thus has a very low number of key passes. In the five big games where Casemiro started Madrid just scored 4 goals.

When Casemiro plays against stronger opponents the team loses its attacking intent and that degrades the quality of overall team play.  Maybe he is yet to get in sync with the more attack minded Real Madrid superstars. Casemiro is still a good player to play in front of defense. He is young and if he improves his overall game he will be a great asset for the team in future.

Kroos should be a certain starter

Kroos plays the deep-lying playmaker role for Madrid. He is accompanied in the middle with Luka Modric who is a fantastic box to box player. Kroos started his career playing as an attacking midfielder. Under Guardiola at Bayern, Kroos played the deep-lying playmaker role where Bastian Schweinsteiger relieved him from defensive duty. So playing as a lone holding midfielder is not something to be expected from a naturally attack minded player like Kroos.

Having said that Kroos is actually a great asset to the team. He has a pass accuracy of 93% in La Liga and 95% in the Champions League this season - better than any Barcelona or Bayern Munich player, the teams which are considered best passers in the world. He is brilliant at holding possession, also taking long free kicks and corners for Madrid.

This season he has the third most assists for Madrid. Only Bale and Modric have created more chances than Kroos this season. Kroos has the ability to dissect the opposing defence with his quick and intricate passing.  He is definitely the player Madrid needs along with Modric to dictate the tempo of play.

So should Casemiro play instead of Kroos? : Absolutely not.

Does Madrid need a recognized holding midfielder? : Probably yes.

Florentino Perez, the Madrid President has this fascination of buying attacking players and often deems defensive players as unnecessary. In 2003, he sold Claude Makélélé one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and brought in the attacking David Beckham.

This decision was widely criticized by many including the present Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane who famously said ” Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine? ” In the last couple of seasons Perez has allowed two holding midfielders – Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira to leave. Therefore Perez is unlikely to buy another defensive midfielder.

A four-man midfield works for Madrid

To work out this situation Madrid has to play an extra player in the midfield to evenly distribute the defensive and attacking workload. Real Madrid should find a way to play Isco and James Rodriguez together. This will reduce the attacking workload on Kroos and Modric and they can help out the defense.

 Isco, James, Kroos and Modric played together in the 3-1 win over Barcelona last season. This is Madrid’s only victory over Barcelona in last 5 La Liga encounters. Real also played 4 midfielders in the Copa Del Ray final win against Barcelona in 2014. Bale and Benzema played in the attack with Ronaldo Injured. Playing four in the middle seems to be a strategy that could work for Madrid but for that to happen they have to drop someone from the BBC.

It can also be statistically proved that playing BBC together in Big games hasn’t gone quite well for Madrid. Below is the list of 21 games Real Madrid played against big teams in Spain and Europe in last one and a half year.

With Bale Benzema Cristiano playing together in the starting 11:

Games Played: 11

Won: 1   Lost: 7   Drawn: 3

Sr. no

        Teams

          Competition

         Score

         Result

   1

   Atletico Madrid (Home)

   La Liga 14-15

        1-2

         Lost

   2

   Valencia (Away)

   La Liga 14-15

        2-1

         Lost

   3

   Atletico Madrid (Away)

   La Liga 14-15

        4-0

         Lost

   4

   Barcelona (Away)

   La Liga 14-15

        2-1

         Lost

   5

   Barcelona (Home)

   La Liga 15-16

        4-0

         Lost

   6

   Villarreal (Away)

   La Liga 15-16

        1-0

         Lost

   7

   Atletico Madrid (Away)

   Champions league 14-15

        0-0

         Draw

   8

   Juventus (Home)

   Champions league 14-15

        1-1

         Draw

   9

   Schalke (Home)

   Champions league 14-15

        3-4

         Lost

   10

   Schalke (Away)

   Champions league 14-15

        0-2

         Win

   11

   Atletico Madrid (Home)

   Copa Del Ray 14-15

        2-2

         Draw


Without one/two member from the BBC playing in starting 11

Games played: 10

Won: 5 Lost: 2 Drawn: 3

Sr. no

       Teams

       Competition

        Score

        Result

   1

   Barcelona (Home)

   La Liga 14-15

          3-1

         Win

   2

   Valencia(Home)

   La Liga 14-15

          2-2

         Draw

   3

   Atletico Madrid (Away)

   La Liga 15-16

          1-1

         Draw

   4

   Liverpool(Away)

   Champions League 14-15

          0-3

         Win

   5 

   Liverpool(Home)

   Champions League 14-15

          1-0

         Win

   6

   Atletico Madrid (Home)

   Champions League 14-15

          1-0

         Win

   7

   Juventus(Away)

   Champions League 14-15

          2-1

         Lost

   8

   PSG(Away)

   Champions League 15-16

          0-0

         Draw

   9

   PSG(Home)

   Champions League 15-16

          1-0

        Win

   10

   Atletico Madrid (Away)

   Copa Del Ray 14-15

          2-0

        Lost

(Games considered for analysis consist of La Liga 14-15 and 15-16 games played by Madrid against top 4 teams in the table. Champions league 14-15 and 15-16 clashes against teams from Spain, France, Germany, England and Italy. Copa del ray 14-15 games against Atlectico Madrid)

BB, BC, CB or BBC?

These stats clearly indicate that Real Madrid play better without one of the front three. So why does Madrid face such a problem whereas Barcelona have been hugely successful in employing a similar three man attack strategy? The answer lies in workrate – Messi and Neymar often drop deep to fetch the ball from the midfield. Barcelona don’t lack a man in the midfield due to the extra efforts made by Messi and Neymar.

To justify this here is another interesting statistic.

Total number of successful passes in La Liga 2014-15:

Messi + Neymar = 3139

Ronaldo + Bale   = 1619

Bale and Ronaldo have completed just around 50% passes when compared to the more dynamic Barcelona duo. Some may argue that Barcelona’s game is based on passing so they can have more number of passes but last season Chelsea’s Eden Hazard who plays in a similar position to Bale and Ronaldo made 1908 successful passes in EPL.

To be successful against stronger opponents Madrid have to change their playing strategy. They have relatively easy fixtures till mid-February and they should definitely try something new i.e. playing with two attackers. Considering recent form, Madrid should play Bale and Benzema in the starting eleven but in a more realistic world nobody will dare to put Ronaldo on the bench.

Also, Perez does not want to see the costliest player in the world sitting on the bench. Therefore Madrid ought to sacrifice Benzema for the team’s cause and play with Ronaldo and Bale in attack.

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