Go easy on the new boy

ARDA ALAN IŞIK
ISTANBUL
Published 23.11.2015 22:10

An interviewer from lfchistory.net asked Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez, "Since you started coaching, how has the game evolved tactically?" The response from the former Liverpool and Valencia manager was interesting. "The game has become faster and more technical, that is true. I remember when we started and we used a sweeper. Now nearly everybody operates with a flat four-man zone. The formations have also evolved and today most operate with only one striker. It has become more important to get players into the penalty box rather than have players already there. This is the major difference we have seen in the development of the game." Almost 10 years ago, when only a few people were interested in the deep codes of this game and the majority were hypnotized by Ronaldinho's fancy moves, Rafael Benitez saw the key point of football; "It has become more important to get players into the penalty box rather than have players already there." You see, this is something you can infer when you truly put your time and hard work into this game. Benitez could have said "It is important to have strong, dedicated defenders, fast and creative midfielders and strikers with finishing abilities. When you have all that in your hand, you are good to go." Nevertheless, Rafael Benitez's himself would respond: "Then what is the purpose of having a coach?"These questions may seem intuitional and trivial to you, but just look at the dominant language in football: "X played well, y was not productive, without z this team is nothing etc." All of those concepts are empty and craving for a context like; what was their goal as a team? How he served his coach's plan? Did the coach organize his team to create enough time and space for this player? How this team-mate cooperated with this player? Or, if this is a team game, how can someone change the course of the game by himself? And so on...

Thus, attacking with those abstract and meaningless premises and philosophizing on the inner connections of this game is crucial for being successful in modern football. In other words, as Rafael Benitez said, one has to be a student of the game. Only then can you understand the dynamic nature of the game and create contemporary solutions to this ever-evolving game, and this is exactly what Benitez is trying to do at Real Madrid.

However, no student starts his struggle with success, especially if he is facing deeply rooted problems and has a lethal opponent. Real Madrid's impatient and unpredictable administration and the merciless Barcelona do not make things easier for Benitez, because failing is inevitable for a learner and there is no credit "for losers" in the city of Madrid. Chairman Florentino Perez and his crew want trophies and El Clasico victories, and they want them as soon as possible. Nonetheless, while both Real Madrid and Barcelona gave changed a lot of coaches in recent years, the former has thrown everything out when a change has been made, while the latter have accumulated knowledge and built a culture. Therefore the tragedy of Real Madrid in the latest El Clasico was just their inexperience and reservations about playing an offensive and dominant game like Barcelona. Given whenever Real faces a serious opponent, their instinct is to play their classic counter-attacking game pops up, Benitez's brave decision to offensively challenge Barcelona was mixed with his players' unconscious decision to play fast and direct, as they are used to. Although they found some opportunities, Barca were always behind the wheel.

On the other hand, seeing as Luis Enrique's "greatest" contribution to Barcelona was making Pep Guardiola's game more pragmatic, he found the best opponent he could find. While Guardiola's traditional game involved possessing and circulating the ball patiently, never letting Real Madrid unleash their counter-attacks, Luis Enrique's pragmatism utilized the space that the Madrid defense left behind their midfield. Real's defenders made a crucial mistake when they ignored their coach's decision to take a risk and respond to Barcelona by playing them at their own game, because when you decide to fight fire with fire, the worst thing to do is to partly withdraw from it. Thus, Real Madrid's hybrid game divided the team into two pieces; six offensive players that could carry the ball into the opponents' penalty box and four defenders that left both themselves and their team-mates alone by standing deep in their half. Nevertheless, sacking Rafael Benitez would be the worst response Real Madrid could give, because it would mean returning to old and expired ways to win. But Barcelona have proved that Real Madrid needs a revolution to challenge them.

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