Real Madrid vs Sevilla

Real Madrid vs Sevilla Preview: The burden of the unbranded

Being this already a season to forget, Real Madrid will enter the field on Saturday at Santiago Bernabéu with a modest concern. A win over Sevilla guarantees the third position for Los Blancos, a place they must keep in order to make the history books less harsh about the club’s most ridiculous campaign in the last twenty years.

With the 1-0 defeat to Leganés last Wednesday, in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, Santiago Solari’s side registered it’s 10th loss this season – ironically on the same day the eternal missing Cristiano Ronaldo conquered his first trophy in a Juventus jersey.

To find so clumsy a year, one needs to go back to 1998/1999, when they ended in second position, being beaten 12 times in La Liga. At the end of the season, coach Guus Hiddink was replaced by John Toshack. But the thing about this Real Madrid is that some triumphs are as shameful as their losses.

Everyone that saw the 2-1 win over Real Betis last Sunday is aware that Quique Setien’s side was far superior for the whole of second half, and Ceballos’s decisive free-kick in injury time was an undeserved rabbit from the top hat, to say the least. Read More

Barcelona vs Real Madrid La Liga Preview

Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Fear and loathing at Camp Nou

Last time I wrote about Real Madrid for Twelve, one month ago, Julen Lopetegui’s squad was an exciting football machine, reinventing itself with freshness and bravery, with two re-ignited veterans, Karin Benzema and Gareth Bale, finding their way where Cristiano Ronaldo used to shine.

Then came Sevilla (3-0) and a Red October, and the dreams of a coach-oriented Real Madrid have evaporated. Now we come to the first Clásico since 2007 without the Cristiano-Messi duel, and the questions seem to multiply. Read More

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid La Liga Preview

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid: Can Los Blancos bounce back?

After the first five games of this season an increasingly bullish mood had seemingly taken hold at Real Madrid as they began to believe they were successfully emerging in to the post-Ronaldo era. But that all dissolved over 90 traumatic minutes on Wednesday night as they were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Sevilla.

Real had managed to largely banish talk about their former number seven with four wins and a draw, which had left them sitting at the summit of La Liga level on points with Barcelona. But on closer inspection, Real had benefited from an accommodating fixture list that presented them with the modest opposition of Getafe, Girona, Leganes, Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol.

And as soon as they faced a credible opponent in fourth-placed Sevilla they looked bereft of ideas and were overwhelmed in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Real will only be able to truly declare they have moved on from Ronaldo’s reign when they have negotiated their way past stronger opposition, and they will get another chance when they face city rivals Atletico at the Bernabeu on Saturday evening. Read More

Real Madrid vs Espanyol La Liga Preview

Real Madrid vs Espanyol Preview: Everybody forgets Cris

The day after Real Madrid crushed Roma in their Champions League debut, some newspapers have written dull headlines mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence. Well, amigos, just like Elsa sings in “Frozen”, it is time to let it go.

An idol will always be an idol, that’s for sure. But, collectively, Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid grows bolder and stronger than most of its version in recent years under Ronaldo’s baton and Zidane’s management. There is no key player now – at least, none comparable with the Portuguese in imposing fear, thus diminishing the certainty of triumphs. But there is more fluidity within the game where only sparks and individualities were expected. In the end, they shot 30 times on goal, with 11 of those on target to Olsen’s net.

Against a strong, but humane Roma, Luka Modric conducted Madrid’s victory as he’d had all his colleagues connected under GPS. The Croatian wizard played at Santiago Bernabéu as someone who wants to justify a World Cup Golden Ball that was disputable, to say the least. His engineering of passing and articulating Madrid’s offensive moves promises a new era when combined to Bale’s Boltian speed and Asensio’s humiliating skills. Read More

Real Madrid vs Roma Champions League Preview

Real Madrid vs Roma Preview: New Era Begins for Los Blancos

With their eyes firmly set on the midweek Champions League action, both Real Madrid and AS Roma will be determined to put their respective domestic draws behind them as Europe’s elite competition returns to the spotlight. Real Madrid vs Roma could be a cracker.

The reigning European champions kick off their title defence and start pursuit of their fourth consecutive Champions League title through the beginning of a new era at Santiago Bernabeu. All of their previous four European crowns were in large amounts won thanks to the formidable goal scoring exploits of the man who is now residing in Turin (and will be hoping to spread his ketchup in Valencia). Read More

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid Preview: Should this be the Case?

Right after the international break, coach Julen Lopetegui will not only have a tough match, but a tough decision to make. Against Athletic in Bilbao, should he spare Casemiro, his pressing machine, from his third match in eight days, as he played for Brazil in two friendlies in the US?

That could be a good option in order to have a solid Real Madrid XI against Roma, for the first group stage match in the Champions League. But falling twice in a year against a bitter rival at San Mamés stadium is too expensive a cost.

Read More

Real Madrid vs Leganés

Real Madrid vs Leganés Preview: Should Marcelo evolve to left wing?

Two La Liga matches are past, and Real Madrid’s concerns are all about how long Julen Lopetegui’s independence will last. The new coach played an unimaginable XI against Girona at Montilivi stadium, giving a game to keeper Keylor Navas, Nacho and Marco Asensio, while Thibaut Courtois, Raphaël Varane and Luka Modric – respectively the World Cup’s best goalkeeper, best defender and best player – were sat on the bench. And let us not forget Vinicius Junior’s debut for Castilla, Real Madrid’s second squad, in the Third Division. This was surely not president Florentino Perez’s dreams coming true?

And definitely not Marcelo’s, as the Brazilian ace once again failed to give solidity to his flank. On his back, 18-year-old Pedro Porro found the avenue he wanted to show speed and skills. On his side Girona found their only goal, when Lozano centered to Borja García, and that raises a question: should Marcelo be kept as left full-back? Or does he need more time to recover from this troubled World Cup calendar? Read More

Real Madrid vs Getafe preview

Real Madrid vs Getafe Preview: The Pursuit of Happiness without Rockstars

Real Madrid is about dominance and rockstars. Such an ambitious side, the first to rule Europe three times in a row in the Champions League era, they may look at this season not only with lower expectations, but also with despair: never have they felt so rejected.

Cristiano Ronaldo is gone, Zidane said farewell out of the blue and the remaining players, however brilliant, are not so triumph-assuring. Unfulfilled promises of the transfer window, Neymar and Hazard, haven’t shown up and now everything seems to be falling apart for the Spanish superpower, who ended up third place in the last La Liga season.

A disappointing campaign, which allowed a 17-point abyss behind the post-Neymar Barcelona still hurts the white hearts. They will face the humble Getafe on Sunday with a team that has been just made to look very inferior by Atlético Madrid in the Uefa Supercup.

Nevertheless, it should never mean a full reconstruction. A glimpse in the squad tells us that Real Madrid is still strong in the defensive line: Carvajal, Ramos, Varane and Marcelo are a well balanced rearguard, reinforced by Casemiro’s patrolling. Kroos and Modric, MVP of the World Cup, are midfield household names and Isco is a stunning young player yet to develop his full splendor. Read More

Real Madrid vs Liverpool: The story of the Champions League final

Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev to win their fourth Champions League title in the last five seasons. It’s a remarkable achievement, but did they deserve to win? And who were the best players on the night?

UEFA gave their man of the match award to Gareth Bale, and he topped the Twelve ratings too. As he scored two goals he was always likely to, but there will rarely have been a match where the key player had such little involvement overall.

Even so, Bale’s first goal was one of the finest seen in any final, and certainly worthy of winning any match. Of course, with Twelve utilising an algorithm there are no points for artistic merit, but if there were then you’d probably assign at least 1,990 of his 2,000 goal points from the match to the overhead kick. It’s certainly worth viewing again, and it’s not a goal anyone, aside from Liverpool fans, will ever tire of seeing.

In total, five of the top six performers on the night were wearing white. This probably illustrates Madrid deserved to win, even if they benefitted hugely from two goalkeeping howlers in order to claim the trophy.

Ah yes, the goalkeeping errors. Poor old Loris Karius. It won’t count for a thing now, but at the half way point in the match he had been Liverpool’s third best performer, behind Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk. It won’t surprise you to hear he finished the match dead last of all 27 players who took to the field, but what was unusual was that the German goalkeeper earned more attacking points than Roberto Firmino.

Former Premier League goalkeeper Shaka Hislop indirectly made a point regarding this in a video for ESPN. “I am convinced that Jürgen Klopp says to Liverpool do everything quickly,” Hislop said, and while this speed of thought helps Karius contribute to the attack at times, it proved his undoing for the goals.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, it wasn’t a great night for their number nine either, and that was doubly disappointing in that they needed him to step up once Salah was forced to leave the field. Firmino wasn’t even able to chip in with his usually superb off ball work, which was a feature of his fine campaign in the Premier League, and he didn’t pick up a single point in that category.

The Reds’ best player on the night according to the Twelve ratings, thanks hugely to his goal, was Sadio Mané. However, it was the Reds’ defenders who probably deserve the most plaudits. The defence chart was the only one where a Liverpool player performed best, in the form of van Dijk, but it’s perhaps Andy Robertson who arguably deserves the most praise here.

The young Scot denied Cristiano Ronaldo what would’ve been an almost certain goal by sliding into block his shot in the 73rd minute. That block was worth 103 points, and on it’s own would’ve put Robertson 12th in the defence standings.

Speaking of Ronaldo, he had a very quiet night by his standards, and was only rated 13th in the total scores for the final. He had just three shots, and Real’s #7 has only had fewer in a Champions League or La Liga match once all season. His surprisingly strong defensive work was highlighted prior to the final, but it was still a surprise to see it contribute so much to his score for the game.

Ronaldo picked up 219 points for shots, and 182 for attack, but 176 for defence. There won’t have been many matches where his dashboard shows more important actions at the back rather than up front, but this game is one such example.

But when all is said and done, it was the errors by Karius which defined this match. It’s one he won’t want to watch again in a hurry.

Real Madrid vs Liverpool: Who have been their best players in Europe?

In my last article I took a look at who Liverpool’s player of the year has been when it comes to the stats in the Premier League. With the Champions League final coming up on Saturday, it’s now time to take a look at how the players of Liverpool and Real Madrid have fared in Europe in 2017/18.

It won’t surprise anyone to see Cristiano Ronaldo lead the way from Liverpool’s fabulous front three, as those four players are the top four scorers in the competition this season. However, it will probably confound people to see Dejan Lovren sneak into the top five, just as he did when looking for the Reds’ top players in domestic football.

While the top four have clearly relied a lot on shots and goals (the blue bar) to reach their high scores, Liverpool’s Croatian centreback has understandably relied upon his defensive (red) points. But his off ball bar (yellow) is relevant too, and in fact Lovren leads the way on this particular attribute, either in total or on a points per minute basis.

Jürgen Klopp appears to value Lovren’s brand of front foot defending, even if it has Liverpool supporters tearing their hair out at times. Twelve value his contribution here too, as we can see on his map.

However, if anything is more surprising than Lovren’s inclusion in the top five players, it’s the fact Ronaldo has racked up far more defensive points than any of Liverpool’s front three, as that feels counter-intuitive when the Reds love to defend from the front.

The Portuguese legend is a useful asset when defending set plays though, thanks to his aerial prowess. Ronaldo has made one more clearance than the Reds’ attacking trident have between them, and here’s his defensive chart.

In terms of actual defenders, both Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos have amassed more points for defending than Lovren has, and in fewer minutes on the pitch too. So how have Liverpool conceded two fewer goals in the competition this season?

An easier batch of opponents has obviously helped, but any Kopite will utter three words when asked why the Reds’ defence has improved recently: Virgil van Dijk. Sure enough, the Dutchman is top of the defensive pile when the scores are sorted on a points per minute basis.

That’s impressive work from the former Southampton man, and let’s not forget he has only featured in the knockout stages as he joined Liverpool in January. Van Dijk’s figures have not been boosted by facing lesser sides in the group stage.

Will his impact help in the final though? After all, Ronaldo is more inclined to drift to the left anyway (as his attack map testifies), and that is where the weaker side of Liverpool’s defence resides too. Then again, van Dijk should prove to be useful in marking Ronaldo on set pieces, even if they don’t face up too often in open play.

In the attack stats, it would be natural to assume James Milner would lead the way, as he has clocked up eight assists in the 2017/18 Champions League, yet he only takes the silver medal.

The fact the winner in this category has set up a single goal in the competition illustrates the random nature of assists nicely. Toni Kroos has created 24 goal scoring opportunities in the Champions League this season, so perhaps should’ve assisted more goals. Mohamed Salah is the only player on either side to create more chances, and he is behind Kroos on a per 90 minutes basis.

The German international has boosted his creativity figures with set plays, but he clearly contributes plenty to Madrid’s attack. While Liverpool will need to be wary of Kroos in Kiev, there’s clearly players on both sides who can cause damage. That makes the match both a mouthwatering prospect but also incredibly difficult to call. Don’t be surprised if one of the top four players in the Twelve rankings makes the key difference in the final.