Player v. Player: Pepe v. Raúl Albiol

Khalid KhanCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2009

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 22:  Pepe of Real Madrid jumps onto Klaas Jan Huntelaar after Huntelaar scored Real's second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and UD Almeria at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on March 22, 2009 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

If there was one area where Real Madrid were worst last season and which cost them heavily in the La Liga title chase and Champions League defeats, then it is definitely defense.

Fabio Cannavaro is gone and he was never really able to shine in his last few years at Real Madrid. To fill his vacant position at center back, Raúl Albiol has been brought from Valencia and Ezequiel Garay comes from Racing Santander.

Presently Real has Raúl Albiol, Pepe, Ezequiel Garay and Christoph Metzelder as specialist center backs, whereas Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa can also do the job in case of injuries or suspensions.

Head Coach Manuel Pellegrini is experimenting in the preseason but the regular starters for center backs may be Albiol and Pepe, when his remaining four game ban ends.

Metzelder can be expected to start before Pepe comes back, before losing place to become backup option alongside Garay. But if Metzelder is sold then Gary Kagelmacher may come up the rank from Castilla as second backup.

Albiol though started his career as a defensive midfielder but at Getafe coach Quique Sanchez Flores played him as center back and from then onward he made this position his own. His speed, height, strength and passing ability makes him first choice. But he will need an experienced defender like Pepe beside him to lead the defense and to work hard to shed his Albi-own goal image from Valencia days.

Pepe is the best center back Real Madrid has. Though somewhat volatile and temperamental character as it manifested in his fight with teammate Javier Balboa in 2007 and last season in a game against Getafe in April 2009 for which he was red-carded and handed a 10-game ban. But his tactical intelligence and defending from dead-ball situations is excellent.

Pepe’s presence in the teams also moves Sergio Ramos to the right back position where he belongs. He will also need to be consistent the whole season and avoid making too many mistakes.

Both Pepe and Albiol have their work cut-out in building a solid partnership in the infamously week area of Real Madrid defense.