Analysis as Toni Kroos is among four Real Madrid stars chronically underperforming

Alex Rea 2/11/2017
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Zidane looks on as his side are beaten by Tottenham

Real Madrid have lost two games straight – cue hysteria.

With all due respect to Los Blancos supporters, there has always been a maddening trend of reacting to low ebbs with a wave of hysteria.

It’s always been that way and it’s part of the club’s fabric.

But in their defence there is reason to be concerned both with the collective unit and with certain individuals.

Indeed, since the start of the season Madrid have been infected with a lethargy which can often strike after periods of sustained success.

Some of the culprits are not players you might expect, though.

After Tottenham’s 3-1 win at Wembley in the Champions League, we look at four players who have been chronically underperforming of late.

REAL PLAYERS UNDERPERFORMING

Toni Kroos

First up is a name you perhaps wouldn’t expect.

For a player who can seemingly do it all, Kroos is doing not much at all right now and when the elegant pass master is slicing truly basic cross-field balls horribly off target, you know something is wrong.

He’s been a far cry from the Kroos in control of recent seasons and it seemed like an impostor had inhabited Real’s midfield against Spurs because for a ball retention specialist, he was doing his utmost to gift possession away.

It was not an isolated performance either.

His drop in form this season has mirrored Madrid’s and according to whoscored.com, the German’s pass success rate is currently his worst ever for Los Blancos both domestically and in Europe.

While it’s easy to pinpoint one stat and blow it up, it does form part of a wider issue in that Kroos is a world class midfielder who is completely ineffectual at the moment.

His pass economy has been revered for years but his distribution has lacked his usual precision and punch.

And past reputation shouldn’t mean a star like Kroos can escape criticism because it’s not just his inaccuracy with the ball which warrants denunciation.

Defensively, he’s offering no protection. The 27-year-old made no tackles, no interceptions and no clearances against Spurs.

With the full-backs pushed up the pitch, Real were left exposed on the counter and Kroos’s positional negligence piled the pressure on Casemiro and the two centre-halves who were caught out repeatedly.

There’s a motivational issue as well – although that can be said for the entire team – because he looks disinterested and that in turn is creating problems when he’s not paying attention.

But Kroos is not alone…

Toni Kroos is chased down by Christian Eriksen

Toni Kroos is chased down by Christian Eriksen

Marcelo

One of the most basic defensive errors was committed by Marcelo for Spurs’s opener and it came to epitomise not just his dreadful performance at Wembley but his alarming season on the whole.

Tactically, Madrid got it horribly wrong. Marcelo was effectively operating like a left-winger against a team renowned for its cut-throat ability on the counter.

Playing at the Bernabeu so high up the pitch you could maybe understand but away in the Champions League to a team like Tottenham, it was just brainless.

As too, was Marcelo’s marking for the opener.

He was one of four players covering Dele Alli in the box and the Brazilian had no reason to be so sucked into the area.

It left Kieran Trippier with ample space and time to cushion a first-time ball into Alli for a simple finish.

Marcelo going forward is such a danger but having to think quickly when working back has always been a weakness.

His passing all season has been wayward also and he’s been dispossessed far too many times for a player of his undoubted quality.

In the defeat to Girona he was equally as bad. Consistently exposed by Maffeo in the first half his irresponsible average position on the halfway line left a gulf of green in behind.

You add in his naive straight red card for kicking out at Levante defender Jefferson Lerma and you’ve got the best left-back from last season seemingly doing all he can to be left back on the bench.

Marcelo and Eric Dier compete for the ball

Marcelo and Eric Dier compete for the ball

Sergio Ramos

It’s time to talk about Ramos.

There are captains who lead by ability and there are captains who lead by personality.

It’s a fair assessment to say the Spaniard falls into the latter category and maybe Pepe – for all his character flaws – was more of the former.

The combination worked well, the two opposing traits married to form a fortified Madrid defence.

But of course, there is no more Pepe and without the Portuguese alongside him Ramos has looked awfully suspect this season.

That was intensified at Wembley as Ramos was without the athletic Raphael Varane in at centre-back, who with his speed across the ground would have provided more cover than the versatile but limited Nacho against Tottenham’s pacey assault.

And Ramos’ demeanour has been one of pubescent frustration at times this season. In periods of crisis you appeal for calm and the skipper has been anything but.

He was flustered by Girona’s intense pressing and his temper boiled over when he barged in to Alex Granell in added time.

Then against Spurs his duel with Mousa Dembele saw an ugly incident in which he repeatedly looked to connect with an elbow during an aerial battle for the ball.

His aggression has always been a source of strength but it’s been a flaw as well and his temper now is filtering negatively into his overall performances.

The warning sign was there against Girona and the nadir came against Spurs when he was bullied by Harry Kane, nutmegged by Alli and then booted by Dembele.

Like Madrid, Ramos isn’t enjoying himself right now.

Sergio Ramos makes an interception in the loss to Spurs

Sergio Ramos makes an interception in the loss to Spurs

Casemiro

For the neutral, Casemiro was comical for but anyone of the Madrid persuasion the Brazilian was no laughing matter.

There were two moments – both of which involved him hitting the deck – which accentuated his poor form of recent weeks.

The first was his gravity defying dive after the most minute touch from Harry Winks and the second was his near face plant as he tried to defend Alli’s second goal.

Both laughable but for different reasons.

In his defence, Casemiro completed five tackles, the most by a Madrid player but his balance and body shape was pivotal in allowing Alli to stride through from midfield for the second.

It was a similar story against Girona when he completed six tackles, also more than any other Real player, but missed the crucial one which allowed Cristhian Stuani to score the equaliser.

The concern for Zidane is that Casemiro strengthened his midfield last season, allowing Kroos and Luka Modric the freedom to create and dictate.

Losing that solidity has meant Real have been swallowed up in the middle. They look disjointed and disorganised and much of that can be pinned on Casemiro.

Casemiro on the ball against Spurs

Casemiro on the ball against Spurs

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Real Madrid should trust Zinedine Zidane to put things right, just like he did the last time his team was in crisis

Andy West 2/11/2017
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Zidane has come under fire after two straight defeats

Real Madrid were terrible in Wednesday night’s shocking Champions League collapse at Wembley, and they are now undoubtedly in crisis.

But relax. Calma, as they say in Spain. Zinedine Zidane has been here before, and he is perfectly capable of leading the team into calmer waters just as he did the last time.

The state of the Madrid team right now is strikingly similar to the mess that Zidane inherited from Rafa Benitez a couple of years ago. Not that bad, admittedly, but similar.

Wednesday’s defeat at Tottenham showed that Los Blancos’ collective team structure is broken. Look again at the English team’s goals, and the most notable thing is just how easily they were scored.

Firstly, Harry Winks has the ball in midfield and, under no pressure at all, picks out a diagonal pass into the run of Kieran Trippier, who is equally unmarked as he delivers a square ball for Dele Alli to convert.

Then Alli picks up the ball in midfield, drives towards goal without being challenged other than by Casemiro’s laughable falling over efforts, and without any further impediment unleashes a shot which deflects off Sergio Ramos and into the net.

And finally, a swift but uncomplicated counter attack allows Harry Kane to slip a simple pass into the stride of Christian Eriksen, who finishes with aplomb to send the disbelieving Wembley crowd into raptures.

Three goals for Spurs, and all of them were fashioned in a straightforward manner with little defensive resistance, indicating that Madrid’s problem is the team’s general lack of shape, balance and organisation rather than the loss of form being so obviously encountered by individuals such as Marcelo and Karim Benzema.

It’s all rather familiar for Zidane, because that was more or less the same situation when he suffered the first defeat of his reign against Atlético Madrid at the Bernabeu in February 2016.

A dejected Zidane after the defeat to Atletico in his first game in charge

A dejected Zidane after the defeat to Atletico in his first game in charge

Back then, Atlético strode through the middle of the pitch without a care in the world as Koke linked with Filipe Luis and Antoine Griezmann finished without any Los Blancos defender anywhere near him. Rather like Spurs at Wembley on Wednesday.

Zidane’s team were in a shocking state after that derby defeat nearly two years ago, and it looked like Zidane had a major task on his hands to turn them into contenders for any major honours.

But four months later, they lifted the Champions League trophy for the second time in three seasons after stringing together a run of 15 wins in 17 games which also ran Barcelona extremely close for the league title.

Zidane achieved that turnaround by making significant changes, notably strengthening his midfield by making Casemiro an unquestioned starter and placing a greater emphasis on attacking width.

It may well be the case that the French coach decides to make similarly drastic changes now, as well. Considering the squad at his disposal, the potential to do so is there.

What those changes are, it’s impossible to say. Describing what is wrong with the team is easy and obvious, but identifying how their problems can be rectified is another matter. And as football is not an exact science, it’s not the case that there is ‘a’ solution anyway – there could be several.

It won’t be easy because the team currently has an awful lot of room for improvement. But in Zidane, they have someone who has been there, done that and come out on the other side with winners medals galore.

They should trust him to put things right again, just like he did the last time his team was in crisis.

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From Gareth Bale to a player sent to prison - a look at World Soccer's 2007 list of most exciting teenage footballers

Alex Rea 2/11/2017
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There is no greater joy for avid football fans than the ability to recognise before anyone else the next wonderkid.

So when the respected magazine World Soccer released their top-50 most exciting teenage footballers 10 years ago to the day, they would have been licking their lips at the prospect of saying ‘I told you so’ when 2017 rolled around.

And to their credit, they got some right. They also, got some catastrophically wrong.

We look at some of the big names who warranted their place on the list and the others who turned out to be flops.

GOT IT RIGHT

Gareth Bale (6)

World Soccer owe a degree of gratitude to the injury of then Tottenham man Benoit Assou-Ekotto for the success of their most commendable shout.

At number 6 on their list, Bale missed out on the top five with players like Giovani Dos Santos and Anderson both nipping ahead of him but their career trajectories have taken decidedly different paths.

At the time, Bale was a raw 18-year-old left-back signed from Southampton for an initial £5million but he was also a jinx.

Indeed, his present reputation as a Real Madrid Galactico is a complete contrast to his initial judgement after Spurs failed to win in any of his first 24 Premier League appearances.

Of course, the misfortune had little to do with him but it didn’t deter the bad luck charm label all the same.

Then a groin strain to Assou-Ekotto at the back end of 2009 gave Bale the opportunity to step up and even when the Cameroonian returned, his impressive performances meant the Welshman was accommodated at left-wing.

The rest as they say is history as the hex became a hit, commanding a world-record fee to join Real Madrid where he has won nine major trophies including three Champions League titles and a La Liga success.

Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale

The Real deal: Bale.

Sergio Aguero (7)

Probably an obvious choice at the time considering the Argentine was Atletico Madrid’s most expensive teenage signing when he swapped Independiente for the Spanish capital in 2006 for £16million.

His goalscoring statistics were already astonishing having plundered 23 times in 54 league games for Independiente with 18 of them in his first full season in the Argentinian top flight.

But the pressure of being Atletico’s record signing did not faze him. He scored seven times in his first season, largely operating from the bench to partner the club’s prodigal son Fernando Torres.

And when Torres left for Liverpool in 2007, Aguero didn’t just shoulder the extra pressure but embraced it also.

The 2007/08 season was a breakout campaign as he scored 27 times in all competitions. His game developed and evolved from there and Aguero established himself as a bonafide star.

Alongside Diego Forlan, he rounded his game during two prolific seasons for the Uruguayan. He had one more season in 2010/11 to stretch his tally for the club to 101 goals.

He is still the club’s 10th highest scorer and considering he left for Manchester City at 22 it’s a remarkable feat. He’s gone even better with City, though, as he recently become the club’s record scorer.

Man City striker Sergio Aguero

Aguero became City’s leading marksman during the UCL clash with Napoli.

Toni Kroos (27)

The signs were there 10 years ago for Toni Kroos to warrant a place considerably higher than 27th.

Indeed, the now 27-year-old credits 2007 as being one of the most important for his development into one of the world’s premier midfielders as he was awarded the Golden Ball at the U-17 FIFA World Cup.

He scored five and assisted a further five in six games as Germany finished third in South Korea and he is arguably the best example of a player who lived up to his potential after his star showing at the tournament.

Back then he was a No10 and although he made his Bayern Munich debut at the age of 17 just 18 days after his displays in Korea, it wasn’t until after a loan spell with Bayer Leverkusen altered his position and ultimately defined the role in which we see him in to this day.

One of the biggest problems during the early part of his Munich career was that he didn’t have a fixed role and it’s part of the reason he drew comparisons with Michael Ballack as the German legend fused the attributes of a six, eight and 10.

Louis Van Gaal, stocked with a rich talent pool as Mesut Ozil emerged to prominence, settled on moving Kroos into central midfield and his ability to defend, distribute and create for his side saw him become a fulcrum in a period of Bavarian success.

After winning everything he could with Bayern he moved to Real Madrid and the elegant midfielder has since become a crucial part of one of the world’s best sides.

Real Madrid's midfield maestro Toni Kroos

Kroos control: The central star has won two European Cup crowns with Los Blancos.

NOTABLE MENTIONS

Angel Di Maria (11)

Karim Benzema (15)

Marouane Fellaini (20)

Mesut Ozil (37)

Alexis Sanchez (42)

Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez

Gone on to achieve big things: Sanchez.

GOT IT WRONG

Sadick Adams (1)

Probably one of the only reasons you may have heard of Sadick Adams is because of this list.

And to be quite honest it’s difficult to actually determine the reasoning why he beat the likes of Aguero and Bale to the No1 spot.

The U-17 World Cup is perhaps the main factor as the Ghanaian scored four times in Korea making him one of the most sought-after African youngsters.

His strong showings were enough to persuade Spanish giants Atletico Madrid to sign him but he was restricted to reserve team appearances.

He was actually banned for four months in 2009 because of the transfer to Madrid with FIFA ruling it unlawful after he defected from Tunisian outfit Etoile.

Adams moved to Serbian side FK Vojvodina then his career path saw him play for Berekum Chelsea and Al-Ansar before settling at current club Asante Kotoko in his native Ghana.

Now 27, he made his full senior debut for the national side this year but it’s still not quite the progression World Soccer had hoped for him.

Breno (9)

A rampaging right-back at Sao Paulo, Breno was snapped up by Bayern Munich in his teens and was viewed as one of the most promising defenders in world football.

He was a future Brazil stalwart with the world at his feet in 2007.

Then disaster – both on and off the pitch.

The 2008 move to Munich was riddled with setbacks with his parents unable to gain a German visa meaning they were forced to stay in Brazil while his difficulty to grasp the German language meant he felt isolated.

Bad injuries struck, too. Having struggled to make an impact at Bayern he was loaned to Nuremberg in 2010 but just as he began to show some signs of the monstrous physicality which had strikers backing off, he suffered cruciate ligament damage in his knee.

The subsequent complications over that injury and multiple surgeries led to him spiralling into depression.

In July 2012 he was sentenced to prison for torching his rented luxury villa in Munich. He called it an accident but the judge didn’t see it that way and his career lay in tatters.

He was released in 2013 and was given a coaching job at Bayern before re-signing with Sao Paulo in 2015. A bizarre career path for a player who promised so much.

Breno (R) battles for the ball with Raul

Breno (R) battles for the ball with Raul.

Gerardo Bruna (10)

Real Madrid, Liverpool, Accrington Stanley, Huesca and Tranmere Rovers all feature on the CV of Gerardo Bruna.

For a player once hailed as the “next Lionel Messi” it’s no surprise to see his inclusion so high on the list but ultimately Bruna has been a spectacular flop.

He was signed by Rafa Benitez from Madrid in the summer of 2007 at the age of 16 and it was a departure which hurt Los Blancos.

Only later did it transpire his actual career would be the source of pain.

He never managed to make a first-team appearance for Liverpool despite the pedigree of playing for both Spain and Argentina at youth level.

Spells at Blackpool and Huesca followed before a trial at Tranmere, and then a stint at Whitehawk. Accrington was his next destination before he departed England for current club Ottawa Fury.

Not quite the “next Messi” and in fairness he probably wouldn’t have even made the XI of players if he hadn’t have been given that tag.

Gerardo Bruna in action for Accrington Stanley in 2015

Gerardo Bruna in action for Accrington Stanley in 2015.

NOTABLE MENTIONS

Ismail Aissati (2)

Anderson (4)

Dumitru Copil (16)

Kerlon (26)

Lulinha (29)

Anderson during his days with Man United

Anderson spent eight seasons at the Red Devils.

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