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What is Real Madrid’s strongest starting XI?

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With Berndt Schuster’s reign at Real Madrid barely ten games old, including pre-season friendlies, and Schuster himself shuffling the pack for rotational purposes, it is not clear which is the strongest possible Madrid eleven. What’s more, this dilemma is heightened by the fact that certain players are performing at a higher level when coming on as substitutes than when starting.

Real also have their strongest squad in recent times — the quality of “reserve” players such as Metzelder comes in stark contrast to the Raúl Bravo, Pavón and Mejia era. Perhaps the lack of a first-team is in fact a strong point of the team — the squad is massively flexible in terms of personnel and formation, and very few players are assured their spots.

What do you think is the optimal Real team, assuming that all players are fit?

For the record, this is mine:

GK: Casillas

Obvious choice.

DR: Michel Salgado

I personally wouldn’t have gotten rid of Cicinho as I feel he didn’t do a whole lot wrong in the white shirt, but in Michel Salgado Real have a consistent tough-tackling defender of the highest order. Salgado’s discipline is pretty questionable and his positioning can be woeful, but he doesn’t tend to make many crucial mistakes and often puts in important challenges. I’d expect a new right-back to come back in the next few years as the signings of Cicinho (now at Roma) and Diogo (now at Zaragoza) attest to the fact that the Real management do not see Salgado as first-choice in the long-term future (and the player is certainly getting on a bit, as is shown in his lack of pace). Or another solution is possible, with Ramos moving to right-back (I actually feel that Ramos’ vast attacking potential is wasted at centre back as Real Madrid do not, unlike Manchester United, play all of their football through the centre backs) and another centre back coming in (Cannavaro is not going to be first choice for much longer, Metzelder is a very good back up but I don’t see him as a long-term starter and Heinze is seen more as a left-back).

DL: Gabi Heinze

Gabriel Heinze edges this over Marcelo due to his experience, although young Brazilian Marcelo has come out of his first games for Real Madrid with a lot of credit. He looks everything he was billed up to be. I can’t see Heinze holding him back for too long, apart from in games in which defensive solidity is prioritized over attacking full-back play. Marcelo will need to gain more experience, that much is certain, but in terms of ability I think he has it all. Heinze was superb against Betis midweek and is beginning to look more like the player he was during his first season with Manchester United.

DC: Sergio Ramos

Because of his huge price tag, there tend to be a lot of detractors of Sergio Ramos. The reality is that Ramos is by far the most consistent of the current Real Madrid defenders (and probably of the team itself, excluding Casillas). Ramos has pace in abundance, is excellent in the air, and his positioning has improved immensely since he joined the club three years ago. There are still kinks to be ironed out, but I would expect Ramos to be a fixture in the side for years to come. I play him at centre-back at the moment, but he could equally step aside and play at right full-back, where his pace and passing ability would be better utilised. It is worth mentioning the fact that Ramos is superb at attacking balls in the air, and is always a threat at corners.

DC: Pepe

Injuries have prevented us seeing too much of Pepe, but what I have seen has been reasonably encouraging, and he was very good at Porto. Real’s defensive record is very good this season (they have conceded just three goals) and where they have looked fragile, it has normally been associated with a Cannavaro error. Cannavaro is surely on lost time and I can see him being ousted from the side when everyone is fit.

ML: Arjen Robben

Yes, injuries have prevented Robben from playing much football over the last couple of years. However, his talent is there for all to see, and he had a large impact for Los Merengues against Betis on Thursday. He is also the only genuine wide player Real possess, after letting Granero move (Drenthe plays out wide but comes into the centre with massive frequency). If he stays fit, expect Robben to be very influential this season.

Floating right/central midfielder: Wesley Sneijder

One of Real’s best players this season — only Raúl has rivalled him for consistency, if not for flair — Sneijder has quickly become essential to the Real Madrid cause, and the team suffers from a lack of fluency when he is absent. Sneijder is by no means a right-winger and is far more effective when floating, although shape demands that he spend some time on the right, despite Salgado’s readiness to join the attack.

MC: Guti

Guti has his fair share of criticism — click here to see Guillem Balague’s assessment of Guti’s inability to win a place in the Spanish national team — but it is clear that he plays a vital role in Schuster’s side (Guti, Raúl and Sergio Ramos are the only players to have played every minute of Real’s league matches this season). With two assists from five matches and an excellent passing rate, Real struggle to create in the same way when Guti absent. However, Guti’s defensive play is exceptionally limited and he can rush passes at times, trying the over-elaborate when only simple passes are necessary. For this reason he must be accompanied by a defensive-minded player (not a box-to-box man who would leave the centre of the park exposed) who does not look to do too much with the ball.

MC: Mahamadou Diarra

Diarra is a tough-tackling midfielder who never stops running. He may not be the most technically gifted player, but his passing is accurate and I am convinced that he will eventually take on Makelele’s mantle as the best defensive midfielder in the world. Diarra has missed just thirteen minutes of league football this season.

FC: Raúl

No arguments here. Raúl has rediscovered his old energy and inspires his side in the same way as Tamudo over at Espanyol. What’s more, with 3 goals in 4 games, Raúl has got his scoring touch back at the moment. I personally feel that Raúl should be included in the next Spain squad (perhaps this will happen now that Hierro is ‘supervising’ Luis Aragones?).

FC: Van Nistelrooy

Again, no arguments. Top scorer last season and, although he has yet to hit top form, a crucial component of the Real side. The only concern here is a lack of pace up front — and long-term, there could be a place for Robinho somewhere in the team.

This leaves a subs bench of 4 from Drenthe, Gago, Robinho, Higuaín, Metzelder, Cannavaro, Saviola, Marcelo — not too shabby. I’d like to hear what you have to say about what this means for the future of the likes of Higuaín, Miguel Torres and Cannavaro (are they going to stay at the club to be second — or even third — choices?).

P.S. As I’ve been writing I have been vacillating between putting Ramos at right-back or centre-back. What is your opinion on the matter?

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Comments (14)

  1. I’d agree that it would be a good idea to stick Ramos at right back, he’s good on the ball and is a good passer, plus out there his temperament is less likely to be brought into play, he’ll be one of the best defenders in the next year or so. Although the fact that he’s so good at heading and has great recovery pace is why he’s played in the centre quite often. Just out of interest…is Pepe really good enough to start for Real and was he worth the amount they paid for him? Plus i’d swap Sneijder and Robben, they’re both good at cutting in on their stronger side. And I know you rate Salgado highly but I think Miguel Torres is a better option than him. Everything else i totally agree on, Gutí for the past few years got his deserved critcism, but he’s definitely worth his place in the team this season, Raul and Diarra have been brilliant, as has sneijder and Robben was looking back to his best against Betis(although he is definitely a from player, if he doesn’t play well you won’t notice him in the game, at all)

  2. agreed with conor – ramos is bet at right back where he can use his pace and doesnt seem to make as many def errors

  3. If Ramos is at right-back, who slots in at center-back?

    my pick is Cannavaro over Metzelder, depending on form. Actually, since Pepe will be eased in, it might just be Canna and Metzelder playing center.

    One good thing about this side is that they can switch around with ease – in midfield as well as in defense. ‘Proper’ rotation? heh…

  4. Agree with all your choices Hugo, save for Pepe as central back. If you’re basing your pick on performance alone (not potential), then Pepe’s had his share of fu**-ups just as much as Cannavaro (see the Spanish Supercup game vs. Sevilla). Potentially, with both players at the top of his form, Cannavaro’s still a better player for me (then again, I’m biased ;)).

    I fully support Guti‘s place in the starting line-up: his contribution in the last Liga-winning campaign with Capello was monumental (especially assist-wise).

  5. Miguel Torres should play over Salgado any day of the week, ie if Ramos plays centre half. Also, Sneijder should start most games, Guti should only be used a sub if we need some creative spark. Guti doesnt have the legs any more. So if Sneijder plays CM then Robinho moves to the right.

    my team would be (if everyones fit and on current form)

    Casillas

    Ramos Canna Metzelder Torres/Heinze

    Robinho Sneijder Diarra Robben

    Raul Ruud

    All out attack, i say…

  6. That might have been the line-up iw ould have expected coming into the season, but from what i have seen from real madrid this season (5 games out of seven official) it would seem to me like tactically inefficient. This is what would sem to me as the best side from all points of view:

    GK: Casillas

    You said it: “Obvious choice.” In my opinion he peeps both Cech and Buffon for best goalkepper award.

    DR: Ramos

    Ramos is the almost perfect DR. He might not be very consistet with his crosses, but otherwise he is fantastic on that wing with his pace. He is also phenomenal in the air. And again, as they do not have a natural right winger, they do need the injection of pace on that side which Salgado struggles to provide because of his age. He should be rotated between DR and DC to train him for his later years when Real could have a class central defender, but for now he would be best put to use on the wing.

    DC1: Cannavaro

    The Italian has been a catastrophe for Rea last season, but is better these days. His problem is not that he is not talented but that he is a bit stupid: he does not think and therefore makes mistakes. He is also prone to blunders and has trouble adjusting to the pace of La Liga after more than one year with the team. Any good news? Well despite all this he is a class defender and he makes some crucial interventions, but if I were Schuster I would show him that he is not an automatic selection which might make him be more conscious of his game.

    DC2: Metzelder

    When the two played against Villareal for the first time together they blended well; Metzelder seems to cover well for Cannavaro and overall they showed that they can make a pairing together. Pepe is just not good enough from what I have seen in pre season and if Schuster decides that Ramos will not play on the wing than this spot will be reserved for him.

    DL: Heinze

    Drenthe and Robben can provide the pace there. He is not needed in attack and is very solid in defence.

    DMC: Diarra

    Agreed. He is the best tough-tackiling defender in the world. I actually think that he is much more efficient than Makelele since he can also play some balls (Make is technique illiterate, if such a term exists). He is also tireless and always comes in first in 50/50 situations.

    MR: Robinho

    He would not actually be used in a wing position, but rather what he played for Brazil in the Copa America. He should move infield with the ball becoming an excentric attacking midfielder as Ramos coul well cover the wing. He is perfect for this position since his technique is fantastic (much more efficient than either C Ronaldo’s or Ronaldinho’s in my opinion) and he has speed to burn. His passing is also very intelligent.

    MC: Sneijder

    Many would argue that Guti has done enough over the years to make this position his, but if you think that than you cannot appreciate how good Sneijder is in that position. He does do a fiar bit of running and his passing is superb, he is not big on technique but has good shooting skills and from what I have seen of him this season I would not rule out him giving a helping hand in defence too.

    ML: Robben

    No argument

    FC: Raul, van Nisterlooy

    The two blend in with each other fantasticaly. With help from Robinho and Robben and with the hand-picked passes of Sneijder they will become a goal-machine.

  7. Where’s R.Carlos?

  8. Roberto Carlos plays for Fenerbahce now…

  9. Andrei,

    regarding Cannavaro – his decision making is what took Italy to the 2006 world cup final, I wouldn’t knock it so lightly.

  10. Manchester United, play all of their football through the centre backs)->what do you really mean?

    Anyway,sergio ramos should play right back.In fact, this is his best position.Maybe you losing chivu is was like losing two players (ramos+chivu)

    You need a Center Back.Something like Udinese’s Cesare Natali.I mean REAL NEEDS a BIG MAN in the backs

  11. Andrei, Casillas is an excellent shot-stopper but he doesnt command his box as well as Cech or Buffon does. Casillas is at best the 3rd best keeper in the world.

    My Team

    Casillas
    Ramos Cannavaro Pepe Heinze
    Robinho Diarra Snejider Robben
    Raul v.Nistelrooy

    Reason(s):
    Cannavaro is a given in the centre back position. Pepe over Metzelder as Pepe has more pace and power although he is no way worth the money paid for him.

    Tempting to play a 4-3-3 but I suppose playing Guti seems to be a real luxury. This formation is not suggested though against Barcelona. :)

    Against Barcelona, Raul or Robinho or Robben to be dropped for another midfielder prob. Gago to provide more steel. I will drop Cannavaro too. Henry loves playing against Cannavaro. (Check match record: Cannavaro vs Henry : Juventus vs Arsenal)

  12. Ahmed,

    Agreed, Cannavaro has had a phenomenal World Cup last year, but has done little right since. What would you look at to asses the qualities of a player? Seven spectacular matches or a below-par season?

    There is no doubt that he is good, but he needs to straighten up and concentrate, otherwise he will waste tons of talent.

  13. Ramos is pretty much a right back being asked to play out of position as a centre half. I’d say put him there if it wasn’t for the fact that Cannavaro is playing so poorly