There has been A LOT of press over the past month or so about Gareth Bale, the 24 year old Welsh winger currently of Tottenham of the English Premier League.
Considered one of the best players in the world, Real Madrid (after seeing Barcelona reel in Neymar) decided that they had to have him in their squad. The word is that the deal is done, and Bale is in Spain at this time waiting to be unveiled.
This article is not about whether Bale is worth the money that has been thrown around. It’s not about whether he and Cristiano Ronaldo can fit their egos into the same squad. It’s not even about whether Ronaldo will ever let Bale take a free kick from right outside the penalty box, or a penalty in the penalty box for that matter. All of that will be worked out on the practice field and between the players themselves as they get used to one another.
What I want to talk about is how, and where, Bale fits in to this Real Madrid side. There are a lot of rumors of Angel di Maria leaving, or maybe Mesut Ozil. But, until those rumors are confirmed I’ll assume that both will be in the squad and ready to go. So, with none of these world class players leaving, Real is left with a ridiculously crowded midfield: Ronaldo, Bale, di Maria, Ozil, Kaka, Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso (once he gets fit), Casemiro, Isco, Sami Khedira, and Asier Illarramendi. That’s eleven very good midfield players for 5 available spots at best.
Assuming that Carlo Ancelotti goes to a 4-5-1 (a 4-2-3-1 being another way of putting it) Madrid would then be operating with 3 attacking midfielders and 2 defensive midfielders. Modric has shown that he can excel as a defensive pivot, and Xabi Alonso has made that position his own during his time with Los Blancos. Casemiro is also known as a defensive midfielder, as is Khedira, and even Kaka has filled in there at times. With Alonso currently out injured it looks like defensively Modric and Khedira are the first choice as the two defensive midfielders with Casemiro and Kaka as backups. It’s hard to figure out what will happen once Alonso is back, but the assumption is that Kaka will see very little time on the field (and become a possible candidate to exit during January’s transfer window) and Modric may see himself demoted to a squad rotation player role.
That leaves Ronaldo, Bale, di Maria, Ozil, Isco, and Illarramendi to compete for the 3 attacking/winger slots. Bale showed last year that he can excel playing in the middle if needed, but the ideal setup would seem to be having Ronaldo on the left (since he’s right footed), Bale on the right (since he’s left footed), and someone like Ozil, Isco, or Illarramendi in the center.
The problem is, on any other team, every one of these guys would be starting. I suppose it’s a good problem to have for Ancelotti, but I don’t envy him the decisions he will have to make.
Reality tells us that at least two or three of these guys will be hurt, one or two of them will end up transferred out, and someone will fall completely out of favor. While none of those are ideal, they would certainly make life easier for Ancelotti.
Football teams can only have so many people with them at each match – a starting eleven and seven subs. So with four defenders, five midfielders, one striker, and the keeper on the field there are certain positions you need backups for. You need to have a backup keeper. One would think a backup defender or two would be prudent as well. So that leaves four slots for midfield reserves, and, as they total six midfielders who will not be on the field, some of them won’t even be there to be called on as subs during matches. As I said earlier, on any other team all eleven of these midfielders are starters. Here at Real, some of them may end up not even suiting up for matches.
That’s an untenable situation over time. No one of that quality wants to just sit around – they want to play! While the addition of Bale can only be a good thing from a quality standpoint, it’s an embarrassment of riches really, and it may result in some unhappy players in the not too distant future.
So, what do you think? Will Real transfer out some of these stars? Will they drop to 3 defenders and go with a six-man midfield? Will they use the flexibility that Modric, Bale, Ronaldo, Ozil, and di Maria give them to slot them in all over, perhaps even as forwards once in a while, or even defenders?
About the Author: Mike Santangelo
I'm a lifelong sports fan who never really thought of putting my thoughts in to words until now. I'm a huge fan of MLB, NFL, NCAA Football, and various futbol (soccer) leagues around the world, so these are the areas I'll be focusing on unless something else cool comes up. If you want to get in touch with me, I'd be happy to talk/argue/debate/be corrected/whatever... at firstname.lastname@example.org.