Mourinho’s Tactics Analyzed
Just past the halfway point in the 2012/13 season, Real Madrid has provided a large enough sample size to start to judge their progress (or lack thereof) in Jose Mourinho’s 3rd term in charge.
After a progressive, if defensive, start to his campaign which saw Madrid claim two major titles (2011 Copa Del Rey and 2012 La Liga), Mourinho’s tactics seem to have peaked leaving Madridistas heavily divided over the Portuguese tactician’s methods.
The Merengues are a massive 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and some disappointing results against Borussia Dortmund in Champions League led to a second place finish in their group and the unfortunate pairing with Manchester United in the knockout round.
A 4-0 victory over Celta Viga on Wednesday helped Madrid advance to the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey where they’ll face Valencia, but the lopsided scoreline masked some lingering issues.
Without even getting into the self-created goalkeeping fiasco which has stolen most of the headlines of late, these three problems are what have been plaguing Mourinho’s Real Madrid this season:
The fullback dilemma The lack of attacking spark once provided by Sergio Ramos and Marcelo is killing Real Madrid’s offense. Ramos’ successful transition to center back has allowed him to not only showcase his impressive range of talent, but also become probably the club’s most respected leader. Aside from Wednesday’s red card, the Spaniard has seamlessly adapted to the middle of defense, but this has not come without a price. His consistent attacking prowess down the right flank is sorely missed all season. Mourinho has gotten defensive consistency from Arvelo Arbeloa, but nowhere near the attacking productivity. Michael Essien and Raphael Varane have each been given chances in recent weeks, but both look uncomfortable playing out of position. So when Madrid’s attack is stuttering, one obvious solution would seem to be returning Ramos to right back, but so far Mourinho has refused. The one exception was Wednesday when Xabi Alonso was removed at halftime, Mourinho tried Ramos out wide, but switched him with Raphael Varane after watching the defense open the first 10 minutes of the second half in shambles.
The lack of combination from midfield Despite spending so much time and money recruiting Luka Modric in the offsesason, the Croatian midfielder has been given too few opportunities to settle into the first team. Mourinho has unfairly pinned some of the blame for Madrid’s poor performances on Modric, even removing him at halftime on multiple occasions. While Modric hasn’t had as much of an effect on the team as he would probably like, he hasn’t played poorly at all. He has actually looked quite capable defensively as both a holding and advanced midfielder, and if nothing else has already served up some delicious assists. But outside of Modric, the rest of Real’s central midfielders don’t look to combine or interchange positions. Whether by design or not, even the Germans Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil rarely combine to create. Along with the lack of attack from the fullbacks, this puts massive pressure on the front four to create goals week to week. While the superhuman form of Cristiano Ronaldo can actually shoulder that burden for the most part, the best teams in the world should be able to take advantage of this unwavering defect.
The lack of attacking emphasis from Mourinho Any fan of soccer knows Mourinho is a defensive coach, but now anytime Madrid starts to play bad, Mourinho’s solution is to get even more defensive. With lesser teams this is a valid strategy, but at a club with so much world-class attacking talent at its disposal, it is criminal to the world soccer community not to use it extensively. Even the goalkeeping debacle can be broken down into these terms. Mourinho doesn’t process the superior technical talent of Casillas in possession, so in terms of physical ability, the bigger, stronger Antonio Adan appears comparable. The irony of Adan’s egregious passing error 5 minutes into his first start, must have left Casillas feeling vindicated about the whole situation. Like anyone else, the Spain and Real Madrid captain wants to win trophies, but without more commitment to attack, the inconsistent performances will likely continue.
The solutions to Madrid’s problems seem obvious to any attack-minded fan of the game, but certainly Mourinho will continue to search for improvement by plodding away with his defensive preferences. However, to this point in the season, his team looks to be regressing. If they lose to Manchester United in February, it may finally trigger an exit for the Special One.