Real Madrid Mid-Season Round Up: Bests, Worsts, and Craziest Of 2010-2011
As we approach the midpoint of the Liga BBVA--and as we begin to look back over the last year--Real Madrid is in second place, right on the heels of arguably the greatest Barça side in the Catalan club’s history. Madridistas like me have a lot to be thankful for: CR7 is still playing like a maniac, Angel di María has been a revelation, Mourinho is still saying absolutely insane things yet has somehow constructed a one-loss juggernaut, and Pepe has yet to have a punch-a-Getafe-player-in-the-face-then-step-on-him-when-he’s-down-level freakout.
And we’ve also suffered through many depressing moments that we would like to drink away, or repress until they bubble over later in our lives in the form of embarrassing facial tics (i.e. meltdown-a-paloozathon 2010, AKA El Clásico).
So I’ve returned from my University-finals-induced sabbatical to break down the highs (and lows) of this half-season--and to remind you that Kaká (yeah, remember him?) will be back terrorizing opposing defenses within two weeks. So much to be thankful for!
For more Real Madrid coverage, check out Gabe's blog, and follow him as he chronicles los blancos' 2010-2011 season on B/R. A por ellos!
Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Angel Martinez/Getty Images
For better (and sometimes for worse) this team lives and dies with our young Portuguese superstar; so far this season we’ve done a lot of living, and only a little dying. However, he was at his worst in the first few games of the season (taking hundreds of shots, missing all of them, not passing to open teammates), and during the Clásico he just disappeared (which he has been known to do from time to time).
But all of that being said, the guy has been just incredible this year: his numbers alone (24 games, 22 goals, 7 assists) prove that. He’s on pace to match his career year (2007-2008), when he scored 42 goals with 9 assists for Manchester United.
Sure, he’s annoying, he dives from time to time (to be fair, so do 100% of professional footballers), and his personality--on and off the pitch--can be grating. At the same time, he’s Real Madrid’s backbone, and he has carried the team in many respects this year. He has easily been our best player, especially considering Higuaín’s dip in form, Özil, Ramos and Casillas’ inconsistency, Xabi’s great but unspectacular play, among other things.
Most Improved Player: Marcelo
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
The Brazilian left back has been a revelation under Mourinho. Not only has his defense gotten better every game, but also his contributions on offense have been spectacular--and very important. His lightning-quick runs out of the back create the kind of havoc that Madrid used to have with Roberto Carlos (though Marcelo has yet to develop the beautiful Roberto Carlos free kick), and his passing and pitch-vision has greatly improved. I’m not sure whether we should give credit to Mourinho or to Marcelo himself for his improvement; but whatever changes he made to his game worked.
Of course, he had a hard time guarding Messi and other Barça players in El Clásico (who wouldn’t?), but that game was admittedly an off-day for the entire team. There have been some moments of spotty play from the young back, but the consistency will come: he’s finally beginning to fulfill the promise and expectation that he has generated for so many years.
Most Disappointing Player: Sergio Canales
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised by this: the guy is 19 years old, and competing for playing time with Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Xabi Alonso, etc. He’s a great talent for the future, and could easily be the next Xavi; he just isn’t as close to being there as I thought at the beginning of the season.
His inconsistency, some nagging injuries, and his timidity aside, there’s a lot to love about el principito. One day, he’ll be roaming around the midfield in the Bernabéu as terrific starter for los blancos--the problem is we all thought that day would be much sooner rather than later. When he earned the start for Madrid in our 0-0 opening draw to Mallorca, I was ready to crown him as the next great Real Madrid prodigy. His sloppy play, lack of energy, and general timidity has made me recant that position somewhat: he will be fantastic one day--just not yet.
Best Result: Ajax 0-4 Real Madrid
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Real Madrid’s 0-4 away destruction of Ajax was so thorough, so total, so all encompassing, that I almost wept. Instead, I wrote this piece, proclaiming that Madrid “was back.”
I still maintain that los vikingos are capable of winning the Champions League--and are certainly among the favorites--because of this game. That Madrid could go on the road, to a notoriously hostile stadium, and totally subdue their opponents with a display of direct, speedy, potent football is a testament to what the team can--and will eventually--accomplish.
Worst Result: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid
Karim looks like he got kicked in the nuts. That's how this game felt.
David Ramos/Getty Images
El Clásico was the perfect storm. Barcelona played incredibly well--beautiful football all around--and Madrid played cumulatively the worst game I’ve seen them play in years. From Mourinho to Sergio Ramos, every single person had a terrible day: not only did Mourinho pick the wrong strategy, all the players had bad days. Mesut Özil and Cristiano Ronaldo disappeared, Sergio Ramos went crazy, and even Casillas had an off night!
Just thinking of this game is giving me a headache, so I’ll move on to the next slide…
Most Surprising Result: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid
David Ramos/Getty Images
Of course, I still have more to say…better get some Excedrin.
The problem was that this game came immediately after Madrid destroyed Ajax in Amsterdam! Things were looking so good for Madrid: everything was going well, the team was gelling, the players were rolling, that when this embarrassment of a game happened, well, most madridistas were just shocked.
I was looking forward to one of the hardest fought, best played, most interesting Clásicos in recent memory, and instead got the pile of rotting garbage that was this embarrassment. What a travesty.
Craziest Moment: Why Does Everyone Hate Our Bus?
The poor Real Madrid team bus. People will just not give it a break. From Manuel Preciado heaving a bottle at it, to some Barça fans throwing a brick through its window, the vehicle just can’t get a break (well, not literally that is).
Here’s hoping the bus has a smoother road in 2011, and that everyone else’s aim is as bad as Preciado’s.