El Centrocampista

Storm clouds continue to gather over Madrid despite emphatic Mallorca triumph

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This weekend the big two duly brushed aside the challenges of sides with vastly inferior budgets, but whilst all remains sweetness and light in the Catalan capital, dark clouds continue to hover over the Bernabeu.  An eight point gap between the champions and their bitter rivals can only be tolerated as long as all goes swimmingly in European competition, and Madrid’s defeat in Dortmund last Tuesday was enough for the knives to reappear.

There seem to be numerous concerns for the Madrid based sports dailies with regard to the current squad, all of which have been aired over the past week.  Marca has decided that much of the blame for the indifferent start to the season lies with the dip in form of Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema, who had ‘only’ scored eight goals between them so far going into the weekend, compared with the fifteen which they had managed at this stage of the previous campaign.

Luka Modric has also come under fire for apparently failing to produce the level of performance expected from this year’s star signing.  And of course a defence which has kept only four clean sheets in the first sixteen games in all competitions has again been pilloried, with Michael Essien singled out for special criticism.

The goal scoring machine that is Cristiano Ronaldo makes the relatively low totals posted by the two number 9s so far a bit of an irrelevance, and many strikers would be more than happy with Higuain’s seven goals in thirteen games after last night’s brace.  It is also remarkably harsh to begin to judge whether the Croatian midfielder has been a good signing after just five starts in his new surroundings.

Modric’s pre season preparations were disrupted by the long, drawn out saga of his inevitable move to La Liga, and he has had to adapt to a completely different style of football from the frenetic pace of the Premier League.  Last night’s performance in the Estadio Iberostar will hopefully have gone some way to convincing some of the doubters of his eventual worth to the team.

Even the defensive malaise which has afflicted ‘los merengue’ can be attributed in some part to factors beyond Jose Mourinho’s control.  Marcelo, Coentrao, and  Arbeloa remain sidelined for the foreseeable future, and Sami Khedira’s return to the side lasted just nineteen minutes in Germany before he limped off with a recurrence of his hamstring problem.  Sergio Ramos’ ailing back prevented him from training in the days leading up to last night’s five goal stroll, but with so many first choice defenders out injured, he was pressed into action.

The main complaint levelled at the current Madrid side which does hold water is that in stark contrast with Barcelona’s policy of giving youth a chance, Mourinho repeatedly refuses to promote from within the club.  The loan signing of Essien and subsequent willingness to play him out of position is the most obvious recent example of this, and is perhaps the reason why the Ghanaian international has been lambasted for his performance in Dortmund, regardless of the fact that the two goals conceded stemmed from errors by Pepe and Iker Casillas.

Young right back Nacho was included in the squad this weekend, but Ramos was still asked to play through the pain barrier in a game which would surely have been ideally suited to a ‘canterano’ looking to gain experience at the highest level.  Mourinho justified this decision by bizarrely blaming RM Castilla coach Alberto Toril for playing him at centre back, a role which he claimed the youngster would never fulfil in the first team.

Toril’s response? ‘He can play in any position’.  With teenager Rafael Varane starting his third consecutive game at the heart of the defence yesterday, the suspicion remains that the Portuguese coach simply does not rate his club’s ‘canteranos’ highly enough to be prepared to give them a chance to make their mark.

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