What’s Real Madrid’s Best XI Under Zidane?

What’s Real Madrid’s Best XI Under Zidane?

Casemiro is rumored to be the odd man out in Real Madrid’s starting lineup under Zinedine Zidane, and not because of any lack of quality or form. Zidane wants to play attacking football, and there reportedly is only room for Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić because James Rodríguez needs to start as well. The French coach said that he will always use the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano), so this makes Casemiro and James vying for one spot.

To play Devil’s advocate, Casemiro is a true defensive midfielder, and Zidane knows the great benefit that Claude Makelele brought to the teams that he played on. Perhaps Zidane will want to start Casemiro because of the similar role that Casemiro plays. There is also the fact that Casemiro has been playing some of the best football for Real Madrid this season. Casemiro allows Kroos and Modrić to display more of their creativity and attacking qualities.

Everyone knows that Zidane brought Raphaël Varane to Real Madrid, and the French center back is arguably among the best two or three center backs in the world. Varane is a phenomenon that brings lightning speed, the technical skill of an elite attacking player, and outstanding defensive qualities. There’s no debate whether Pepe or Varane is better. No contest. Varane wins.

So under Zidane, Real Madrid will likely start Keylor Navas in goal with Danilo or Dani Carvajal at right back and Varane and Sergio Ramos at center back. Marcelo will play left back, but the real toss ups are in the midfield. There are too many players for the available spots. Isco and James are in direct competition with one another to play as the attacking midfielder or out wide, and both affect Casemiro.

If Real Madrid uses a three-man midfield, then starting Modrić, Casemiro, and Kroos pushes James or Isco out of the starting XI.

There is also Mateo Kovačić to consider. He brings smooth passing and creativity, and he fills the same role that James or Isco bring. Positional battles like this are normal at a club like Real Madrid, and Zidane will have his hands full.

It will be interesting to see if Zidane proves to be an elite ex-player that coaches well or that coaches poorly. The reality could also be less black and white. Maybe Zidane will improve over time as a coach.

Possible Real Madrid XI under Zidane:

Goalkeeper- Keylor Navas

Right Back- Danilo

Center Back- Raphaël Varane

Center Back- Sergio Ramos

Left Back- Marcelo

Defensive Midfielder- Toni Kroos/Casemiro

Center Midfielder- Luka Modric/Toni Kroos

Right Wing- Gareth Bale

Attacking Midfielder- James Rodríguez

Left Wing- Cristiano Ronaldo

Striker- Karim Benzema


The Casemiro Effect at Real Madrid

In Casemiro, Real Madrid has a true defensive midfielder that distributes the ball well with either foot.

Toni Kroos, despite being more of a box-to-box midfielder or playmaker, has been used as the anchor of Real Madrid’s midfield three the past few years, and since he is a complete midfielder, he was able to excel in the more defensive role that he was ask to play.

Like Kroos, Luka Modrić has also been freed up to play a more attacking role by the emergence of Casemiro who has risen from promising young defensive midfielder to first-choice defensive midfielder for Real Madrid.

When everyone is healthy in the Real Madrid midfield, the true Number 10s will find themselves in even more of battle for the Number 10 role, especially since both Kroos and Modrić are themselves really Number 10s.

Five out of the six players in Real Madrid’s Front Six must be thought of as locks in the starting lineup, and these five players are: Casemiro, Modrić, Kroos, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Karim Benzema. As this is the case, James Rodriguez, Isco, and Mateo Kovačić will now be battling Gareth Bale for the final spot in Real Madrid’s Front Six.

Given both Modrić’s and Kroos’ excellent playmaking abilities and particularly their ability to feed Benzema and Ronaldo, there is less of a need for James, Isco, or Kovačić in the lineup, and this will make Rafa Benítez’s job of keeping his superstars happy even harder.

How do you put Isco on the bench, and how do you put a healthy James on the bench?

Kovačić has also showed his ability to orchestrate an attack and keep the passes moving around the field quickly for Real Madrid, and his ability to tackle and play defense makes him a strong option off the bench or to replace Casemiro, Modrić, or Kroos if they are injured.

Casemiro might not necessarily be a starting lock yet, but given the fact that Real Madrid now have a real defensive midfielder to deploy in front of the defense, we might see both Modrić and Kroos display their true playmaking skills, which will push Ronaldo and Benzema even closer to goal.

The Casemiro effect might be one where the insertion of a midfield destroyer with excellent ball-playing abilities makes Real Madrid’s attack even more dangerous, as Modrić and Kroos will be able to just play a non-stop stream of through balls and balls play over the top to Benzema and Ronaldo.

What will happen with Isco, James, and Kovačić now?

Doentes Por Futebol Translation: The Moment of Truth For Neymar

Doentes Por Futebol recently published a fascinating opinion piece by Victor Mendes Xavier on the impact Lionel Messi’s injury will have on Neymar and Barcelona’s tactical setup without Messi. The article is entitled “A hora da verdade para Neymar.” The English translation of the title is, “The Moment of Truth For Neymar.” You may notice that “the hour (or time) of truth” is translated into English as “the moment of truth,” which is a common figure of speech.

The piece highlights how Neymar will be expected to take up the main offensive role at the club, and the article also highlights the greater freedom Neymar will have on the field in general and in the attack. Victor Mendes Xavier also points out how Neymar will be able to drop into the midfield to combine and link up with the midfielders without giving up his role as a forward.

Here is a link to the article on the outstanding site and excellent social media follow, Doentes Por Futebol, which of course means “Crazy About Soccer.”


Here is a translation of the opinion piece with the original text below:

The Moment of Truth for Neymar

“The injury to Messi fell on Barcelona’s world like a bomb. Without his main star, Luís Enrique will need now more than ever one name in particular: Neymar. More so than Suárez, the Brazilian has the air of the lead man, decisiveness and skill, that in the end, made the club rip him away from Santos looking for a “Second Messi” on the roster. Obviously, the Argentine is irreplaceable and unique. But Neymar has the qualities to be a provisional leader for Barça.

Luís Enrique knows this. Two weeks ago, in the matchup against Átletico de Madrid, when Messi started on the bench, the Spaniard put the Number 11 in charge of leading the attack. Neymar, in theory, started out left, but, without the Number 10, gained even more freedom of movement. His movements down the middle, just like Messi’s, were greater, the partnership with Iniesta was more evident, and the interplay between the lines left the Atlético de Madrid center back pairing uncomfortable.

In the coming weeks without the Number 10, Lucho will study changing the formation, right away. Based on a piece in Mundo Deportivo, the Asturian plans to discard the 4-3-3 in favor of a (diamond) 4-4-2 with a more populated midfield: Busquets and Mascherano as a double pivot; Iniesta and Rakitic out wide on the flanks. In this formation, Neymar and Suárez would move all over the attack. Better for Neymar, who would have the option of interacting with the midfielders without necessarily having to compromise his role as a forward. Closer to goal, it’s almost certain that he will shine.

Neymar will have two months to display his true footballing range, which is greater than he has enjoyed thus far at Barcelona. Keep an eye on him.”

Original Brazilian Portuguese text:

“A lesão de Messi caiu como uma bomba no ambiente barcelonista. Sem seu principal astro, Luis Enrique irá necessitar mais do que nunca de um nome em especial: Neymar. Mais do que Suárez, o brasileiro tem uma aura de protagonista, decisão e técnica que, no fundo, fez o clube tirá-lo do Santos buscando um “segundo Messi” no elenco. Obviamente, o argentino é insubstituível e único. Mas Ney tem condições de ser um líder provisório do Barça.

Luis Enrique sabe disso. Há duas semanas, no duelo contra o Atlético de Madrid, quando Messi começou no banco, o espanhol encarregou o camisa 11 de liderar o sistema ofensivo. Ney, teoricamente, partiu da ponta esquerda, mas, sem o dez, ganhou ainda mais liberdade de movimentação. Seus movimentos à medular, tal qual Messi, foram maiores, a parceria com Iniesta ficou mais evidente e o jogo entre linhas deixou a dupla de zaga colchonera desconfortável.

Nas próximas semanas sem o 10, Lucho estuda mudar o sistema, pelo menos momentaneamente. De acordo com uma publicação do Mundo Deportivo, o asturiano pretende deixar o 4-3-3 de lado para formar um 4-4-2 com um meio-campo mais povoado: Mascherano e Busquets no doble-pivote; Iniesta e Rakitic abertos pelos flancos. Dessa forma, Neymar e Suárez se moveriam por todas as partes do ataque. Melhor para Ney, que teria a opção de dialogar com os meias sem necessariamente ter que cumprir funções de ponta. Mais próximo do gol, é quase certo que ele irá brilhar.

Neymar terá dois meses para mostrar sua verdadeira dimensão futebolística, que é maior do que a desfrutada até agora no Barcelona. Olho nele.”


Neymar Has Adapted to European Football


Neymar. (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP)
Neymar. (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP)


It only took a few games for Neymar to fully adapt to European football and playing with Barcelona.

The Neymar critics have been circling around like vultures for the last few years with the bizarre logic that the best Brazilian player of his generation would somehow not be able to cut it in Europe, despite an abundance of video evidence showcasing incredible ball control, creativity, and athleticism on the club and international level.

Even after Neymar and Brazil humiliated and dominated Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final with skill, athleticism, physicality, and psychological warfare, the Neymar critics still doubted whether Neymar would be able to mesh with Lionel Messi and fit in with Barcelona’s style of play.

The uniqueness of Barcelona’s style of play is somewhat of a historical fallacy because one-to-two touch soccer based on a passing and moving without the ball has been the recognized gold standard of world football since Pelé and before.

Even people who hate soccer and know nothing about it know that Brazil is the best soccer nation in the world, and most of the best soccer players come from Brazil. Even Americans who hate soccer associate soccer excellence with Brazil.

Therefore, it’s a mystery why so many people in the United Kingdom and in Europe insisted on perpetuating the ludicrous opinion that Neymar would struggle to adapt to La Liga, Barcelona, and Champions League football.

Over the last few years, Neymar’s body has filled out and matured quite a bit, even if he still has a thin physique as his natural body type, and it is surprising that more of Neymar’s detractors didn’t notice that Neymar was becoming more muscular and taller.

From the very first game of this summer’s Confederations Cup, Neymar announced to the world with his electrifying goals, assists, and overall play that critics would be eating their words.

The final nail in the critics’ coffin was the ruthless left-footed half-volleyed goal that Neymar scored near post by crushing a shot off the bounce straight at Iker Casillas’ face, even though Casillas, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world along with Gigi Buffon, had the near post covered.

The cold-blooded nature of that goal and the ability and confidence it took to pound it straight at Casillas’ head in the Confederations Cup Final should have silenced the critics once and for all because once he repeatedly scored and excelled against the best national teams and embarrassed Spain on international television, what more did Neymar need to do to prove that he was ready for European football?

As Barcelona’s season began, the critics were still out in full force saying that it would take Neymar a while to adapt to Spanish and European football until Neymar scored the game-winning header off a Daniel Alves cross to beat Atlético Madrid in the first leg of the Supercopa de España.

Not only did Neymar score, but by scoring a contested header with his head, Neymar showcased his complete skill-set to doubters who viewed him as a soft player who wouldn’t put himself in harm’s way.

Neymar knows how to compete in a physical sport while still avoiding injuries and protecting himself from reckless and dirty players.

In Neymar’s most recent game, which was against Sevilla, Neymar outplayed Messi, and Neymar showed that not only adapting to Spanish football but thriving was mere child’s play for a player of his abilities.

The Brazilian sensation’s real battle will be to win enough trophies and individual awards by continuing to balance individual brilliance while still being a player who plays for the team and makes his teammates better.

More so that Cristiano Ronaldo and maybe Messi, Neymar is likely a player who is better-equipped to make his teammates better while still distinguishing himself as the best player on the field.

Neymar wants the crown and the glory, but he will likely achieve both by not competing against his peers but by competing with his own standards and doing what is needed to win games.

Cristiano Ronaldo definitely views Messi as a competitor just as he viewed Kaká as a competitor, but like Tiger Woods, Neymar seems to only be competing with himself.

Contesting the fact that Messi is the world’s best footballer is considered blasphemy, but the 21-yeard-old Brazilian master looks to be a more complete player, who unlike Messi, uses both feet interchangeably and who is a more gifted passer with a bigger arsenal of individual skills to score and best opponents.

The problem for Neymar will be winning the Ballon d’Or four times with players like Mario Balotelli, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, and many others around.

If the Brazilian maintains his relaxed personality and his big-game mentality, then focusing on success with Brazil and Barcelona will also bring the individual awards.


Neymar, The Unfazed Magician, Comes to Barcelona

Neymar. (Photo: Reuters)
Neymar. (Photo: Reuters)


With all of the criticism and media attention, Neymar has always remained calm and unfazed by the criticism and praise. He doesn’t make conceded statements about his abilities nor does he insult his opponents or fellow professionals.


When Neymar makes a mistake or loses an important game, he gets right back up with the same positive attitude from before the mistake or game, and he shows up to the next game with no fear of failure, but rather with the desire to play with joy.


The magic and flair that Neymar brings to the game isn’t just for show, but rather the trickery is very effective at losing defenders, scoring goals, and getting free to play passes to his teammates when they are in good positions.


Neymar’s tricks are not only exceptional because of the speed and ease at which he executes tricks that most professionals cannot successful perform against elite opponents, but Neymar combines two to three of these tricks in a single sequence.

For the purpose of perspective, it’s worth noting that Clint Dempsey, an excellent soccer player even by international standards and the best American soccer player ever, has 35 goals in 96 games for the United States. Neymar has 20 international goals in 33 games for Brazil before tomorrow’s friendly against France. Neymar also has 138 goals in 220 games for Santos.

People like throwing the proverbial rocks at Neymar, but luckily for Neymar, critics like to throw more rocks at Mario Balotelli, who despite his reputation for being a hot head must have an enormous tolerance for criticism and media slander.

Neymar attracts a lot of criticism for jumping out of the way of hackers to avoid injury, but what do these critics want, for Neymar just to allow himself to be injured?

Another piece of criticism that Neymar receives is that he’s unproven in Europe even though the best players in Brazil have almost always succeeded in Brazil.

Pato, Diego, and Robinho received a lot of criticism for their play in Europe, but no one who has followed those players closely or watched them play would call any of those three players flops or failures. Nevertheless, many soccer fans still label them as flops.

Neymar is better than both Lucas and Oscar who made their debuts in European football this season with enormous success, so why then is there this insistence by so many people particularly in the United Kingdom that Neymar isn’t proven?

Since when is being the best player in Brazil not an indicator of future success in Europe?

Neymar’s critics seem to mostly be English Premier League fans or people who feel that Spain’s success in recent years signals a return to European superiority in world soccer.

Even Champions League fans like claiming that Neymar plays against inferior competition in Brazil, never mind the fact that most of the best Champion League teams are stacked with South American players.

Whatever the motivation is for Neymar’s critics, these same critics will be in for a rude awakening when they see Neymar playing for Barcelona, as Neymar brings both a willingness to pass and the gift of making game-changing passes, not to mention tireless running off the ball and a technical skill-set and 1v1 abilities that are second to none.

Neymar’s critics should get ready to see Neymar shine because only Ronaldinho displayed the same audacity and ease to execute outrageously difficult tricks, shots, and passes.