Too slow, too predictable — the Spanish style is past its sell-by date

March 6, 2008

Casillas on bended kneeIt is difficult to exaggerate just how big a blow it is for Real Madrid to stumble out of the Champions League in the first knockout round for a fourth year in a row. The club measures its success not in terms of league titles but of its nine European Cups and yet another failure in the continent’s elite competition will take a heavy toll.

At the end of last season, Real president Ramon Calderon sacked Fabio Capello after the Italian ended the club’s four-year trophy drought by bringing the league title to the Bernabeu. The reason Calderon gave for the decision was that Capello’s team had failed to excite the fans with their style of football and had disappointed in Europe.

Few could argue with the Real supremo’s decision while the side were riding high in the league and still in with a chance of winning a 10th European crown. Only a few weeks ago, Calderon said Real had “the best squad in the world”, that there was “no room for Kaka in this team” and that the team was “playing like a machine”.

Since then Real have been knocked out of the King’s Cup, had their lead in the league sliced from nine points to five and been ousted from the Champions League by a ruthlessly efficient Roma. They have lost five of their last seven matches in all competitions.

The team’s over-reliance on keeper Iker Casillas and striker Ruud van Nistelrooy has become all too apparent, while their inconsistent performances in midfield and at the back are a cause of real concern.

To make matters worse coach Bernd Schuster has fallen out with the media.

The German’s sarcastic responses in news conferences, his criticisms of referees, and a recent walk-out after a league match in Huelva have won him few friends and many in the media are busy sharpening their knives.

Schuster responded to a question from one journalist on Wednesday about how he felt after the team’s elimination from the King’s Cup and the Champions League, by glaring at the reporter and saying, “Me, I feel fine.” Asked for his view on the match he replied, “For me it was not a defeat. We deserved to go through.”

Those responses are hard to fathom. Real were comprehensively outplayed by a sharper, hungrier Roma side at the Bernabeu. They may be good enough to win the Primera Liga again this season, but that won’t be enough for the weary fans I saw streaming out of the stadium before the final whistle on Wednesday.

All of which brings me to my final point.

For some years now the Primera Liga has laid claim to the title of best league in the world. Real and Barcelona’s victories in the Champions League and their clubs’ performances in the UEFA Cup provided strong support for their assertion. But this time round they have only one side in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup and for the second season in a row they have just one team in the last eight of the Champions League.

The favoured Spanish style of slow, patient build-up play has passed its sell-by date. Too many players and coaches confuse possession with danger, while opponents who play on the break are criticised as if they were adopting some sort of underhand tactic. Few Primera Liga sides possess the pace, verve and dynamism of sides like Roma, Arsenal and Manchester United. Surely they will have to change before they can reclaim their place amongst the continental elite?

PHOTO: Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas reacts during the Champions League defeat by Roma, March 5, 2008. REUTERS/Susana Vera


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Nice article – I totally agree. For the last few years Real Madrid have been slow and predictable. They tend to keep the ball well but at the end of the day do very little with it. As an Arsenal fan I’m privileged to watch my team move and play with great verve and pace and Madrid need to change the pace of their style a little bit to match that of Barcelona or even Sevilla. They looked very sluggish against a slicker, more determined Roma.

Posted by Spanish Fry | Report as abusive

Too slow, too predictable — the Spanish style is past its sell-by date – Reuters Soccer Blog

A blog on how the Spanish style of play is on its way out…based on Real Madrid’s 4th successive knock out in the first round of the champs league – so not Spanish style of play just Real Madrids then….

Posted by | Report as abusive

While I agree that the slow build up play favoured at Real and Barca has been found wanting, only saved by the brilliance of individual performances in recent times, it doesn’t tell the whole story of Spain’s problems.

When Real were taking all before them in the league a couple of months ago it was when sides had a go at them and Real picked them off with swift counter-attacks. Real then were being criticised for not dominating games and for playing ‘boring’ football that was very effective.

Real pummelled Roma in the away leg with some invigorating attacking play, but were undone by some clinical finishing from a streetwise Roma. Roma did to them what they have being doing to other sides back home.

Surely the point is that the Primera Liga is not very strong at the moment. There are only two teams with large enough squads capable of putting together the consistency necessary to win the title — Real and Barca.

Real and Barca are not really tested in the domestic league. They make mistakes and are rarely punished until they meet teams like Roma in the latter stages of competitions and fail.

You are right about Real’s over reliance on Casillas and Van Nistelrooy. Raul is no number 9 these days and behind him there is only Soldado who is a true centre forward, and he never gets a chance. Higuain and another virtual outcast Saviola cannot lead the line.

Real’s squad is good enough to win the current Primera Liga, but not to compete in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Schuster has been unable to raise the side to play the type of football demanded by fans/media in big games, when the patient counter-attacking style has actually served them well in low-profile league encounters, where they are only occasionally shown up when their opponents make the most of their chances.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

This argument is ridiculous.

Barcelona won the Champions League two years ago (beating Arsenal and eliminating Chelsea along the way).

Sevilla won the UEFA Cup two yers ago (thrashing Middlebrough in the final).

Sevilla won the UEFA Cup last year in a final contested by two Spanish teams.

If the pacey and long-ball tactics of EPL teams is the way forward, how come EPL teams have won nothing in Europe in 10 years except Liverpool?

Obviously, the pace of Chelsea, Arsenal, and Middlesborough did not help against Barcelona and Sevilla, respectively.

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

Hi Vincent,
The point I was trying to make is not the past performances of Spanish teams, but what has happened the last two years in the Champions league and this season to a certain degree in both European competitions.
Two seasons ago, Barca played a far more intense pacy passing game, but now they all too often resort to lateral passes which give opposition defences too much time to get into position. Obviously the individual brilliance of Messi and Eto’o can often make up for this, but the team as a whole has played poorly this season.
Sevilla are one of exceptions as they still try to play an intense, quick-breaking style as do Getafe and Espanyol, but too many other teams lack that speed.
I’m certainly not advocating the long-ball tactics of some English teams, just saying that the patient possession football of many Spanish teams means that are caught out by teams like Roma who play quality footbal with real pace.

And you never know there might just be a Spanish double in Europe again with Barca taking the Champions League and Getafe the UEFA Cup!

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