Into the Calderón: Well, Om, here we are again, getting set for another Madrid Derby. Surely you must be feeling pretty good about your chances Sunday considering Real Madrid’s recent form?
Om Arvind: I’m always wary going into Madrid Derbys, especially in the league, but I can’t deny that this is a pretty good time to face Atlético Madrid. I’m not saying that Atlético have been bad or that they are weak at the moment, but rather that Real look good right now. The confidence is up, the tactics have been better and Ronaldo is on fire. There are few better conditions to be in before entering a Derby.
ItC: As you know, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored — let me check my math — six thousand goals since January. What’s changed for him since his somewhat barren first half of the season?
OA: Some of it is just down to variance. It’s extremely unlikely that a player of Ronaldo’s quality will only score half of his xG, but that’s what happened in the first half of the season. Thus, a lot of Ronaldo’s goal scoring in 2018 has been him simply reverting back to his usual self. However, there are other things at play as well. His shot quality in 2018 (~0.2 xG p90) has been double that of what he had in the first half of the season (~0.1 xG p90). That is significant, because while Ronaldo’s aggregate xG was quite high in the second half of 2017, he was having to shoot from tougher locations and angles. Ronaldo’s confidence — which is a major factor when it comes to finishing — was also down thanks to his poor run, which explains why he was missing so many 1v1’s earlier in the season.
So, to sum it up, it’s safe to say that better service and better finishing — which has boosted his confidence to create a multiplier effect of sorts — has been the magic combination for Ronaldo’s mind-bogglingly ridiculous 2018.
ItC: It looks very much like this is a repeat of the run Madrid as a team went on last spring. What is there still to be concerned about with this side, tactically or otherwise?
OA: There’s still a fair bit to be concerned about tactically. We still suffer from defensive compactness issues that arise from the confusion around our press; we don’t know when we want to press and our players are inconsistent with their positioning and spacing when we do. Some of our usual build-up issues also still exist; a lack of movement in-between the lines, Casemiro positioning himself as a CAM, and an overly fluid midfield structure. This isn’t to say that we haven’t improved tactically since the first half of the season, but I wouldn’t say our tactics have been anything special of late. Our 3-0 win over Juventus was pretty much entirely down to Ronaldo’s heroics (Juventus were even on xG until Paulo Dybala was sent off) and Unai Emery’s scheme against us was poor to non-existent. I can’t help but shake the feeling that those two managers didn’t taken advantage of of the tactical weaknesses in this side. Max Allegri pretty much replicated his shape and strategy that lost him the 2017 Champions League final and Emery, like I said, was just flat out bad. I would think that Diego Simeone would be a better bet to exploit some of our issues, but there isn’t too much he can do if a couple key guys like Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos raise their game to GOAT-levels (which has been happening consistently in 2018).
ItC: Does Diego Costa’s presence in this derbi send chills down your spine?
OA: I already have a tweet prepared in advance for when he kicks Casemiro in the nuts.
For real though, I can’t deny that I’m scared he’ll stick one past Real. Plus, his introduction to the team has been a lifeline for Antoine Griezmann and he always knows how to wind up Sergio Ramos up. I’m expecting to see one of the most fiery Derbys in recent memory with Costa back in the equation.
ItC: I look forward to reading that tweet.
It seems Gareth Bale is set to start Sunday, but what have you made of his increasingly unclear situation at the Bernabéu?
OA: You tell me! I can only imagine that Bale has fallen out of favor with Zinedine Zidane if he’s failing to start our most important matches of the season (there used to be a time where Bale would play even if he had only one leg to stand on). But what makes this confusing is that I can’t pinpoint the player that has replaced him in the pecking order. Isco seems like the obvious choice, but he wasn’t picked to play in the second leg vs. PSG. It also just feels ridiculous to say that Marco Asensio or Lucas Vázquez have a higher squad status than Bale.
Whatever the situation, I can’t say I’m a fan of it. Bale has been under-the-radar good 90% of the time he’s stepped on the field and he provides us with better tactical balance than Isco (because Isco is so often fielded in a 4-4-2 diamond).
ItC: Call it!
OA: Real Madrid 2-2 Atlético Madrid. Ronaldo and Bale on the scoresheet for Real; Costa and Griezmann on the scoresheet for Atlético.