I should clarify, 3 Things to Look For- From a Madrid Perspective. This is a Spanish soccer website after all.
Although the preseason is young, several trends have emerged in Real Madrid’s performences and it will be interesting to see if they continue when Real take on the Old Lady of Italian Football, Juventus(Kick-off: Friday, July 31 2009, 20:30 CET).
Here are the 3 to keep your eye on:
1. Pepe( Will Diego Run rampant?)
The biggest knock against the first group of Galacticos was their defense. The likes of Figo, Ronaldo, Zidane, Beckham, and a moderately in form Raul couldn’t make up for the fact that they didn’t have a defense or a strong defensive midfielder to do the dirty work (a la Mascherano). Poor Helguera was consistently shifted in and out of position to cover up Real Madrid’s huge defensive gaps from 2004-2006, until the club hit an al time low with signing of Thomas Graveson! Yes, you read that right, Real’s defense was so pitiful that Graveson was seen as a savior.
Perez has attempted to show his maturation from the first Galactico era with the signings of Albiol and Arbeloa. However, Pepe will play against Juventus and he will probably start during the season. Regardless of what others say, Pepe has looked shakey this preseason. He has been ridiculously lax when defending and is constantly forced to clean up his own mess. Something that might fool others into thinking that he has been defeming well, but I’m a more astute observer than that. On one particular instance in Madrid’s last game, Salgado tackled a Liga De Quito player from behind and the ball rolled into the box, Pepe hesitated as he moved forward and the attacker was able to regain the ball. Pepe eventually dispossesed the forward after the striker stumbeled. Had Madrid been playing against a truly quality side, Pepe would have been punished for his mistakes(Emphasis on the plural). Imagine Pepe hesitating against Deigo in the box? Take a look at the goal that Diego scored the other day…exactly(This column would have been up an hour earlier had I not spent an hour marveling at Diego and replaying that clip over and over again)
2. Ronaldo’s Reactions
(Before I go on, it must be said that I can’t stand Ronaldo. I hate his antics, I feel he is too selfish, and I don’t understand what position he plays. He used to play as a winger, but then he turned into some sort of winger/striker half breed. Wayne Rooney spent more time on the wing than Ronaldo did in his final two seasons. I wish I could seperate that part of myself and report objectively, but I can’t. So I compensate with full disclosure of my bias. Ok enough of this tangent)
I sincerly believe that Ronaldo was bored at United, and that his disnterest paved the way for his exit. Ronaldo would score forty yard screamers and react nonchalantly, he felt no pressure. But on Wednesday, after scoring a preseason penalty, a Tiger Woodsesque fist pump followed. Ronaldo was so nervous when he was first presented to the Madrid faithful, he bobbled the ball while juggling.
You can chalk up Ronaldo’s nerves to it being early in the season. But it is clear that Ronaldo feels the need to justify his transfer fee, as do the rest of the Galacticos. And when the pressure mounts is it really far fetched to think that each one of them will feel the need to take the game into their own hands? These pressures could lay the foundations for team that becomes easily flustered especially when they go down early.
3. Every Madrid Player on the Pitch
Meaning, who is and who is not on the pitch. Pellegrini has a huge squad at his disposal-with more on the way. Clearly, he won’t use all 35 players during the season. With the start of the season approaching expect the rotation to tighten. Pellegrini has to figure out who will work best together, how to incorporate Raul(No matter who is there, Raul’s got to play. I feel like that is negotiated into each new coaches contract), and what to do with the left over pieces. Pellegrini even gave Guti a run last game. The formation that Pellegrini puts out against Juventus could reveal who has impressed him the most, and who will most likely be staying at the club past August.
Three games into the season is too early to judge a squad. Three games into the PREseason for a team missing one of its key components(Kaka), two new signings(Albiol, Arbeloa) with another major arrival possibly on the way(Alonso) is usually not even grounds for a remark. However, the Real Madrid vs. Juventus Peace Cup Semifinal represents the most interesting and important match of the Madrid’s preseaon. It is against a quality side(This is becoming increasingly difficult to say about Italian teams. Oh and no disrespect to Tornto FC, who Madird play on August 7th. Ok, ok full disrespect, in terms of world football, you guys stink), it is a match of some importance(loser goes home), and Giorgio Chiellini has been talking smack. Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself, at the end of the day it is an insubstantial offseason match between two sides who haven’t been training for longer than 4 weeks. But at the very least it will allow us to take a break from the transfer market and concentrate on what we all love most for a minimum of two hours, football.