This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of articles I have entitled "Best of Spain." This is a project to translate or reinterpret the outstanding articles in the Spanish press into English, for the pleasure of those non-hispanohablantes among us.
I have here given full credit to the authors where it is their due, including a link to the article in question, but as this is a somewhat loose translation of a highly idiomatic language, much of the style is my own and some of the ideas necessarily embellished.
The inspiration for this article is a piece entitled "América descubre el potencial del nuevo Madrid" by Alex Gortázar, published in MARCA on 10/08/09.
America shows the potential of new Madrid
Real Madrid returned from America with the feeling that Florentino Pérez’s magnificent project has already hit the ground running. The details are a little fuzzy, but Pellegrini already knows, broadly speaking, the squad he’ll be able to count on and who will be his most important performers.
July ended inauspiciously with a defeat against Juventus in the semifinals of the Peace Cup. Madrid weren’t clicking and had conceded four goals from set pieces in a handful of matches.
However, they had just arrived in Canada when their problems began to disappear. The American tour saw the reincorporation of those internationals who had played in the Confederations Cup, who had been given extra vacation, as well as the two new signings from Liverpool; Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso.
The first stop of the American tour was Toronto. This was the first time that Real Madrid had ever played a game on Canadian soil, and the local fans enjoyed the spectacle put on by Los Blancos immensely.
The 7th of August, 2009, will go down in the history of the club as the day that Kaka (who debuted) and Cristiano Ronaldo played on the same pitch for the first time in the white shirt of Madrid.
The opposition didn’t pose too many problems for the Merengues, who scored with ease against the Canadians. The final scoreline of 5-1 demonstrated the stunning power Madrid have at their disposal, with such a solid base that supports a style of football that is both very attractive and very practical.
Pellegrini is close to achieving what he has been seeking with the classic 4-4-2 that did so much for him at Villarreal. Albiol and Xabi Alonso played their first minutes as Madrid players against Toronto. Arbeloa returned to wear once more the shirt that he defended countless times in Madrid youth teams.
The second stop was Washington D.C., the capital of the United States. The encounter was played out in suffocating heat, and Pellegrini’s men were sorely taxed by the opening play.
They didn’t succeed in breaking DC United’s stubborn resistance until the second half. It was Higuaín that broke the deadlock, staking his claim to a place in the first XI with a quick-fire brace. Robben, not wishing to be outdone by his teammate, was also very active and sealed the rout with the final goal of the evening against the Americans.
Real Madrid had been on American soil less than a week, but the team have already started to show signs of what it can do. The defense has improved notably, although it is worth noting that the quality of the opposition was somewhat lacking. In the center of the park, the key to ensuring that the Pérez revolution wins titles is the invaluable work of Lass, winning and distributing the ball and generally making his teammates and the recent arrivals look good.
As regards the attack, there were never many doubts about a forward line stacked with so much explosive talent. Any way Pellegrini lines them up he is sure to get goals.
Albiol-Pepe: They should be the starting partnership in central defense, and in America they played their first minutes together. Pepe will not be available for the beginning of the season as he still has games left to serve on his ban, but Pellegrini has shown that he trusts in the pair.
Drenthe: The Dutchman had been all but certain to leave the club at the beginning of the pre-season, but he made himself indispensable during the tour. The coach is pleased with him and consequently he may be deployed at left-back next season, though Arbeloa and Marcelo have the upper hand at the moment.
Arbeloa: The Spanish international is Pellegrini’s ‘wild card’ for the defensive line. He has used him at right-back and as a central defender, although with the return of Sergio Ramos he will most likely play at left-back. He has acquitted himself well across the defense, something that is, and will be, fundamental for the team.
Lass: The Frenchman will be a key figure in the first XI. He does the dirty work in the center of the field and carries out an essential duty. His job will be to watch the back of Xabi Alonso in the center of the midfield.
Xabi Alonso: The Tolosa native debuted in Toronto and demonstrated just why he was signed. From the first minute he provided fantastic depth to the team with his long passes and trademark changes in play. The forwards know that, thanks to him, they are going to be provided with many clear goal-scoring opportunities over the course of the campaign.
Granero: The ‘Pirate’ calls out for a place in the team every time that he touches the ball. He is becoming one of the most outstanding players in the squad and constantly demonstrates why Pellegrini must take him into account.
Kaká: In Toronto he was much more active than in Washington, but the Brazil international has already shown us evidence of his class. He is not yet match fit, but soon enough he will take charge of games and show us all his skill.
Cristiano Ronaldo: CR9 played in Washington with a high fever and consequently couldn’t perform at full strength. In Toronto, however, his connection with Benzema looked very promising, providing the Portuguese with his first goal from open play.
Benzema: The Frenchman has become the great sensation of the pre-season. He is clearly more physically fit than many of his teammates and it shows, but in every game he plays we see new and different things from him.
Higuaín and Robben: It seems that Pellegrini won’t rely on the pair very much, but their excellent performances against DC United served as a reminder that they are still here and that the coach can very much count on them at any time. At the beginning they will start from the bench, but the season is very long and they will have many opportunities to prove themselves. Look to see a big impact from these two when given the chance as they have a lot to prove.
Raúl: The captain is always there. Every year new players arrive and he continues playing. This year will be no different. In Toronto he scored two fine goals and once again demonstrated how indispensable he is to Madrid.
Negredo: Every week he is linked to various clubs, but as long as he remains on the payroll, and if he finally stays, Pellegrini will have a loyal striker and a great goal-scorer on the books. He played for half an hour in the Canadian friendly but he left a good impression and came close to scoring his first goal.
Madrid still have some time before serious competition begins, and several more friendly matches to contest, from which we will be able to garner much more information. Only time will tell whether Florentino Pérez's Gallacticos will be a success or a failure. But on the evidence of the quality of the play in the American tour, the future looks rosy for Los Blancos.