Real Madrid is the worst. Seriously, they’re the worst. Their kit is horrible (all white, how creative!), their stadium is too old and big full of old fans who hate everything (we need modern arenas, people!), and they’re just the worst and I hate them.
Ed. note — In addition to being a friend of The Siren’s Song, Renato is a Barcelona fan and runs fellow SB Nation site Barca Blaugranes, so his unique perspective on what makes Real Madrid tick is most welcome and very valuable.
But wait, I’m a Barcelona fan. I have a century’s history of political and sporting reasons to hate them, and I’m not afraid to admit I’m a biased idiot when it comes to talking about Real Madrid. I can’t look at them objectively, I always want them to lose, every good thing that happens to my team is a reason to make fun of them, and I cry when they win.
But I’m also a football fan, and as much as I hate to admit it, Real Madrid is a pretty damn good team with really good players and a (somewhat lucky) legendary player who turned coach and has a lot of trophies and very few losses in his first year. It’s a mountain to climb for Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16, but it’s not a team impossible to beat.
Let’s look at what makes them good and… not so good. Again, they’re the worst.
Without a question the part of the pitch where Madrid thrive is the midfield. Forget Cristiano Ronaldo for a second, because he can’t create for himself these days, so he needs a midfield full of creativity behind him. And that’s what he’s got in Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Casemiro is a monster defensive midfielder, who covers more ground than any player in the Madrid team and is able to break up attacks with ease. He’s capable of going through entire games without committing fouls, and has a knack for anticipation that makes him without a doubt one of the top holding midfielders in the world.
In front of him, Modric and Kroos are the ones responsible for dictating the tempo in which the game will be played, Kroos with his insane passing range, and Modric with his tireless movement and fantastic vision. These two make everything happen in their best days, and Madrid’s best games have featured masterful performances from the midfield trio.
And then, of course, there’s Ronaldo, perhaps the best finisher in the game, who doesn’t need a lot of chances to get goals. He’s 32, but is still pretty fast and agile, and is always in the box waiting to score.
The thing that could definitely swing the tie in favor of Napoli is the poor organization we sometimes see in Madrid’s defense. When everyone is engaged and willing to close spaces, they’re pretty good without the ball, but once one player decides to give up on marking (usually it’s Ronaldo), the structure quickly falls apart if the opposing team is able to pass the ball quickly and run into space.
They struggle to control games if Modric and Kroos are not absolutely superb, because the other players are either very good defensively or very quick to attack, so they can have problems with creating chances if the midfield is not capable of running the show.
To be clear: Madrid need all of their individual pieces at their best to win big games, which usually happens. The collective performances are usually below par, and if the opponent is well organized and knows how and when to exploit their defensive problems, they could be caught.
Napoli don’t need a miracle to advance, because Madrid have things that can be exploited by a defensively strong side that is also quick and sharp going forward. That’s Napoli, and they can definitely pull off the upset.
And I’d love for that to happen. Because Real Madrid is the worst.