How Will Real Madrid Function Without Higuain?

15 01 2011

Since taking over at the Santiago Bernabeu, despite a monumental slip-up against Barcelona, everything has been going rosy for Jose Mourinho. He has implemented a 4-2-3-1 system which the team have adapted to with ease. As the season has progressed, so have Real, who are playing some of the best football in the league; an added bonus for president Florentino Perez, who after sacking Manuel Pellegrini, accepted that winning is the most important policy. The Portuguese coach however has not been one for rotation, and after finding a first X1 he can trust, has been reluctant to alter the first team players. However a back injury to the ever reliable Gonzalo Higuain has left Mourinho in a dilemma. How will he replace the Argentine?

For the past three seasons Higuain has cemented the poacher spot in the team, and a return of 63 goals in his last 101 games had made it difficult for Karim Benzema to displace him. Higuain has mastered how to play the role. He has the ability to hold the ball up to bring others into play, he drifts out to the wings to create space for Cristiano Ronaldo to drive through the centre and also has the persistence of playing on the shoulder of the last man, which helps to stretch the oppositions defence, freeing space for Madrid to squeeze forward.

Benzema and Kaka have a Real Madrid lifeline.

Higuain’s form has led to Benzema having a difficult time in Spain so far, with appearances generally being as a substitute towards the end of matches. After a quality performance against England in November, it saw the Madridistas calling for him to get a chance. Although his performances in the cup competitions, including a hat-trick against Levante, have generally been good, in La Liga it hasn’t gone well and the 23-year-old has only scored one goal in 17 matches. The Special One hasn’t been happy with the Frenchman’s commitment in training, and with strong interest from English clubs, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him leave in the summer.

Mourinho has made it clear to General Director Jorge Valdano he wants a striker who is a ‘number 9’, a physical outlet who can replicate for him what Didier Drogba did at Chelsea. Fernando Llorente is a firm favourite for this role, but Athletic Bilbao are only willing to sell him in the summer, which is a similar scenario for Belgian wonderkid Romelu Lukaku, who wants to finish his education before moving abroad. The board have told Mourinho he is on a limited budget, so the search for a new striker has seen the club venture into the veteran market. Miroslav Klose and Ruud van Nistelrooy are the most likely options. Klose’s contract expires in the summer meaning he would be available for a cheap transfer fee, and Bayern Munich are not concerned if he leaves. Van Nistelrooy is favoured by the fans after his previous spell at the club, which saw him score 64 goals in 96 games, as well as winning two La Liga titles, a Spanish Super Cup and the Pichichi in 2007. Mourinho wants a quick, short term fix and Benzema, although he hasn’t been poor, will need a sequence of games to get his sharpness back.

The other option for Los Blancos is to use what they have already got. Youngster Alvaro Morata has been in notable form for the Castilla this term, and impressed in his Copa Del Rey outing against Levante for the senior side. He has the potential to play the role, and has been likened to Fernando Morientes, but Mourinho wisely feels it’s best to ease him into the first team fold. Sergio Canales is another attacking option, although the midfielder has had a few injury problems this season, and is likely to return to Racing Santander on loan.

With Kaka now available after returning from a knee injury, it will be interesting to see how the Brazilian fits into the team. The three supporting men of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Mesut Özil have been superb this season, creating 31 goals between them and scoring 45 times altogether. Disrupting that trio could have a detrimental effect on the way Madrid operates as an attacking force. The way to incorporate all of them would be to play Ronaldo as the striker. He has played this role a few times for Manchester United, most notably in the Champions League away ties, and also for Portugal, but has made it clear he doesn’t enjoy playing in that position. A less conventional deployment would be to use no out-and-out striker. They would have four attacking men constantly altering position and Ronaldo could play his natural direct game still, running into the striker position. Mourinho even tried this formation towards the end of the Villarreal game last weekend.

The more attacking option would be to continue with the starting line-up that Los Merengues use at the moment, but drop one of the holding players and play Kaka as a deep-lying attacking midfielder, while Xabi Alonso sits and protects the back-four as well as playing his usual playmaker role. This formation would be risky and would disrupt the balance of the team, but at home against weaker opposition there could be an opportunity for Mourinho to try it.

What’s clear is Real Madrid need to find a replacement for Higuain fast if they are to challenge for any major honours this season.




One response

15 01 2011
World Spinner

How Will Real Madrid Function Without Higuain? « Jamie7mu's Blog…

Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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