Real’s old guard behind title charge

January 28, 2008

Robinho and GutiReal Madrid’s success this season is largely down to last term’s title winners rather than the clutch of new signings.

With 17 games left to play, the nine-times European champions are sitting pretty at the top of the table, nine points clear of arch-rivals Barcelona and 15 ahead of third-placed Villarreal.

Among the new faces, Portugal centre back Pepe and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder have made some telling contributions, but they have by no means been decisive.

Defenders Christoph Metzelder and Gabriel Heinze and former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben have spent more time in the treatment room than on the pitch. Argentine striker Javier Saviola has continued his Barcelona bench warming role while Dutch wingback Royston Drenthe has had an accident prone start to his Real career.

Instead it has been the old guard, who helped snatch the title from Barca’s grasp last season, that have been the secret to Real’s good form.

Iker Casillas has developed an aura of invincibility in goal, Ruud van Nistelrooy remains devastatingly efficient up front, Raul has recovered much of his old spark, and Brazilian trickster Robinho and the mercurial Guti are in the form of their lives.

Real may not be playing the sort of crowd-pleasing football Bernd Schuster promised at the start of the season, but there is no denying that they have been supremely effective.

An early exit from the King’s Cup has come as a blessing in disguise and the players looks fresh and sharp as the team heads into the business end of the season.

Is it Schuster that has brought the best out of these players? Has the German merely reaped the rewards of the legacy left by Fabio Capello? Or is it just that Real look so good because they have no serious rivals in Spain this season?

Simon Baskett, Madrid

PHOTO: Real Madrid’s Robinho celebrates his goal against Villarreal with Guti. Jan. 27 REUTERS/Andrea Comas


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Actually, I think it’s a combination of all three: Schuster has definitely brought the best out of Robinho, a player sadly stigmatised by Capello for much of the season for being “led astray” by the likes of Ronaldo. The incident earlier in the year following a Brazil game, which Schuster decided to pretty much ignore, gave the player a much needed boost when the press were sharpening their knives. Raúl is sporadically showing flashes of his form and even Guti is less irregular (for him) than customary.

Capello’s legacy wasn’t a particularly solid defence (Casillas is still reponsible for much of the bacon saving heroics). He did leave, however, a core of players with a degree of self-belief that had been lacking for the best part of three years. Schuster has harnessed that and, if possible enhanced it. How, I don’t honestly know.

Finally, I think the rest of the top sides in the league have been going through some sort of identity crisis. In Valencia’s case, mostly self-inflicted. Sevilla stumbled following the death of Antonio Puerta and the departure of Juande Ramos. They have shown some flashes of the form that brought them back to back UEFA cups and may yet recover in time to give a good accounting of themselves in the Champions League. Barcelona are, I think, still reeling psychologically from throwing the league title away last season and the subsequent accusations of complacency that have attached to some of their key players in previous seasons, especially Ronaldinho. Their fall hasn’t been as spectacular as Real’s in 2003-2004, but it seems some sort of renewal is necessary to give them the confidence they need. Atlético are, well, Atlético.

Posted by Gonzalo | Report as abusive

Spot on Gonzalo. I agree that the key rivals are all going through some form of crisis and that has made Real´s job easier. But whatever way you look at it the team´s revival over the past two years has been a major achievement and this season´s statistics make for undeniably impressive reading.

Posted by Simon Baskett | Report as abusive

[…] Simon Baskett, over at Reuters, argues that Real’s successes this season are largely due to the ‘old guard’ and that the new signings have not yet made a significant contribution. […]

Posted by Breaking away | Real Madrid | Report as abusive