A chat with the other side, aka “Bassam talks Classic”

Miguel Ruiz/FC Barcelona
Miguel Ruiz/FC Barcelona

In advance of the Classic, we talked to Bassam Dgheim of Real Madrid Football Blog, about 10 things. Bassam, who many of you have interacted with in the comments space here, is good people, and a reminder that we fans are all human critters. It’s the teams and clubs we dislike. I have done my part, which is now up (thanks, Bassam!) at RMFB. So with many thanks to Bassam, here we go:

A Barça win will put us 7 points ahead. How big a dent would that be to RM’s title hopes?

Yes and no. It’s still very early in the season. Major shake ups in the squad have gotten us to the point were we are 4 points away. But I would be worried more about us in the long stretch than right now, because that’s when the team will be a well oiled machine. Right now we are doing well because we have great players. But little hardship might steer the ship the wrong way. So while 7 points away will be rough to come back to, I don’t think it is the end of the league. We meet again at this season and have another chance to pull it back.

To beat Barça, Madrid needs to take advantage of (enter Barça’s weakness and/or key match-up in favor of Madrid)/To beat Madrid, Barça needs to take advantage of (enter Madrid’s weakness and/or key match-up in favor of Barça)….

To beat Barca, Madrid needs to take advantage of the left flank. With Bale set to miss the game, the team will adjust more and more towards CR running the show. Alves is good, but he has his moments, especially in defense. With Rakitic and Iniesta putting in leg work in defense, but not actual positional defense, I think the combo of Modric and Kroos will need to exploit that and spring the ball well to the left flank.

To beat Madrid, Barca needs to do the obvious: Attack from the right flank. Marcelo is brilliant going forward, but he is god awful in attack. And similarly, without Alonso in the center, Messi is gonna have a lot of space dropping deep. If RM don’t control that, then they might be in big trouble.

How has Mourinho leaving affected the clásico, and is Ancelotti too much a pragmatist to care about the hype?

How has rain fall affected the drought? Very well I would say. I’ll keep this more general than just the clásico: Mourinho leaves and we win the double, including the far awaited 10th CL title. And had it not been for poor decision making, RM were easily looking at the treble last year. Ancelotti brings in a aura of zen and calmness that we have not had since VdB. And he knows that one game won’t define his season. With Liverpool done like they were on Wednesday, I think pressure is really off Ancelotti in this one.

Which Barça player(s) do you despise?

Alba. Alves. I used to really dislike Sanchez. Not fond of your manager at all for the all so obvious reasons.

Is the team better without Bale in reality, against Barcelona?

Yes and no, again. Against Barca, the team might miss Bale much more than against any other team. He has the work rate to drop back and form a 442, while maintaining a dominant a quick threat on the right flank. Under any other circumstances, I would say he’s a huge miss. However, his replacement is a guy with the name Isco, and I rate him extremely high. Iniesta with more goals and less assists is a good description. Has improved leaps and bounds since last year, especially on positional play and work rate. Turned from a player that needs the system to be centered around him to a player that is capable of fitting into the system well. I feel more comfortable with him coming in.

What’s the biggest change in this year’s RM side from last year’s?

We no longer need to hear bout La Decima every second. So that’s a big change. Alonso and Di Maria leaving are the other two big changes both personnel and formation wise. With Di Maria gone, we lose that extreme work rate and assist machine. But much more importantly is losing Alonso. He was the anchor in midfield. Organized the defense very well and orchestrated the attack brilliantly. Our defense has suffered most in his absence, as he was the leader in that domain. He was the equivalent of the coach on the field. No surprise that Pep picked him up.

Has Casillas got the support of most merengues? Do we only hear from his detractors because they scream louder?

Getting Mourinho as your manager is like getting a tramp stamp. You might remove it, but the essence and memory of having gotten it is still there (think Ted Mosby from HIMYM). While Mourinho is gone from the team, there are many who supported him that still linger. Chelsea fans, Porto fans, Inter fans, they are all Real Madrid fans. And all want to make sure we never forget we ever got that tramp stamp. So for me, it is definitely a case of detractors scream louder. Let’s not forget, the Ultra Sur gave Mourinho a trophy of appreciation during his last game for us. And they were the only fans he went and bid farewell.

What has Kroos brought to the team that wasn’t there before?

It’s a tough question to answer. The main reason behind that is because Kroos is playing a position he has never had to play before. While he grows into that position and while the formation changes to adjust to his strengths and weaknesses, we are seeing more and more why he is so highly rated. He obviously brings the vision on the ball, the mobility in the center of the field and of course, the football IQ. He adds more of a short directness to our play as opposed to the long directness that Alonso had. I think the best is yet to come from Kroos as he adjusts.

What RM line-up do you expect to see start the classic?

I think we will go with Iker-Carvajal-Pepe-Ramos/Varane(depending on fitness)-Marcelo-Kroos-Modric-Isco-James-CR-Benzema. In possession, James will occupy the right flank, drifting to the middle often. In defense, we will shift to 442, with CR slight on the wing and Benzema waiting to get the ball to spark a counter attack. I would watch out for Carvajal on the right, as he will have a lot to do in attack with Bale out. The dude is fast.

If Alonso had stayed, do you think that he would have fit into this season’s RM?

I think we would not have seen a similar style had Alonso stayed. Ancelotti had to change a lot in order to accommodate for Alonso leaving, even though the general formation is still the same. I worry that this game against Barca is where we will miss Alonso the most, especially with dealing with Messi (from an organizational point of view).

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Two points:

    Mathieu was not needed at LB today. With Bale’s absence, Adriano or Alba would have been MUCH more suited for play. He was solid defensively but offered us no attacking outlets.

    Xavi had a pass completion rate of 78%.

  2. Matthieu was the worst player on the pitch today (not always, but definitely today), slow and clumsy, just awful. Dani had a decent 2nd half, but I’ve been saying for a while, CB was not the only priority over the summer – we are extremely vulnerable at both left and right back this year.

    Agreed that the Sergio Roberto sub was flat out pathetic. That’s the best MIDFIELDER they could sub in? In a classico? For Barca, a club where everyone is expected to play like a midfielder? WTF?

    Final lamentation – why hasn’t Messi been rested? He should not have played both of the last 2 games. He was the least dangerous of our 3 forwards today, and there’s a reason for that – he’s not 21 anymore.

    Cycles, yeah, I get it, but it could have gone much better.

    1. Whoa. Mathieu was the worst player on the pitch? Not by a long sight. Pique was worse, Messi was worse, Iniesta was worse, Xavi was a turnstile, Busquets was a hold the ball too long mess and Alves was getting owned by Marcelo without cover, and he didn’t have any because Suarez wasn’t helping him like the crapped on, shunned Pedro always does.

      I said Messi should be rested, people say “He got rest with Argentina, he can govern himself, he’s fine.” He was so poor today, when he wasn’t invisible.

      It was a team ass whipping by a much better side. 3-1 flattered, the way the team played. Not just bad, but bad AND dispirited.

    2. All of those players were indeed terrible, but I’ll stand by my original judgment of slow and clumsy – so maybe he just LOOKED worse. If you do watch again (and my heart would go out to you), I think you’ll see what I mean.

      On a side note – I’ve long thought Pique could someday get back to pre-Shakira form, but I can’t really convince myself of that anymore.

    3. I agree Mathieu was certainly not the worst player – but he didn’t work out offensively, and his poor ball handling is perhaps what many remember. Against Bale – yes. But as it were – I agree with many here who suggest Masch in midfield and Mathieu as CB. But then again, people complain Alves and Alba cannot both play against strong opposition… and certainly not without Rakitic covering for the former.

      It is indeed sad that our before so formidable midfield has become our weakest point of late.

  3. Most painful for me is that the three players that I said I wanted from RM, killed us today. Dammit.

    An awful, awful match. I don’t want to watch it again, but I should because you learn more sometimes from defeats than from victories.

  4. We lost to a team that are in better form than us in their house. We played badly and they played well.

    Everyone still has to calm down a bit. Titles are decided in 6 months time not three points in October.

    The important thing is that lessons get learned from this. For me these are the important ones:

    Alves is well past his best and needs cover to deal with good attackers. Marcelo owned him for the penalty.
    Xavi Busquets Iniesta doesn’t work anymore in big matches. It hasn’t done for a couple of seasons now but let’s hope now Lucho has seen it for himself that he learns.
    Pedro is not a game changer. Our bench is very weak in the attacking areas with all due respect to Munir’s ability but he’s still a kid. Alexis shouldn’t have been sold.
    Busquets is in a slump, Masch should be starting in midfield in the biggest matches.
    Iniesta is also in a slump and he doesn’t contribute enough going forward to excuse his lack of defensive contribution in this kind of match.

    1. Wenger has finally seen the light: he put Alexis in the No 10 (Messi) slot against Sunderland: the result, two goals and SIX tackles.
      Seriously, I have trouble believing that if you substituted Alexis for Messi in the big games, you wouldn’t get more overall quality (if not quite as many goals).
      Barca is now a team full of goal-scorers. But the forward press has dissolved, which means the plodders in the middle (Xavi and Busquets) get over-run, and then the backline gets over-run.
      For a long time, I haven’t seen what Busquets offers a team, except neat and unadventurous passing. Xavi offers much the same thing. Why play them both? Why play either?

  5. terrible from back to front. comprehensively outplayed by a hungrier, more clinical, more focused Madrid side.

    our problems in defense, against decent opposition, persist. Pique does not need to be near a football pitch anytime soon, Mascherano AGAIN at fault for not being able to mark his man on a set piece, new signing Mathieu was cumbersome and perhaps should have been played in Pique’s position, while Dani Alves cannot be counted on to own the entire right side of the pitch as he once did while contributing meaningfully to both attack and defense.

    we stomp some halfassed La Liga opposition, concede no goals, and people say VOILA, our defensive issues are solved. but we’ve only played 2 good teams thus far this season, and we’ve lost both games while conceding 6 goals. in particular, we were exposed over and over again on the counter; in transition we’re completely disorganized.

    and, as much as i hate to say it, that was the worst game i’ve ever seen Iniesta play.

    1. All true. But the defensive problems start at the front. The great Barca side pressed high and hard. Neymar – Messi – Suarez just put out the door mat.

  6. oh yeah, and when Iniesta is having a bad game, who can be put on from the bench to replace him against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern or PSG?

    Sergi Roberto.

    that says so much about our failed transfer policy right there.

    1. Which world class AMFs are gonna settle for a place on the bench whenever Iniesta gets injured or loses form? No one.

  7. Many, many problems today, but the biggest for me was that LE regressed from what he had started doing so far this year. Why revert back to the MF trio that has been shown up time and time again when so far this season he has successfully used a MF trio that has been more physical and dynamic, exactly what this game needed. I would have started Masch, Rakitic and Xavi today. Pique and Mathieu as CB’s and Alba LB. Pedro or Munir should have started on the right purely because of their defensive work. Suarez will get there but right now he is simply not fit enough to put in the defensive work required in a game like this. The lineup for me was all wrong, all so completely wrong.

    I hate to say it but for quite a while now it has looked like Iniesta has lost his way a bit. He is just not adding anything useful, neither offensively nor defensively. That play today that lead to the 3rd goal was such a complete shambles I did not even know how to react to it.

    Suarez actually looked very good today given his level of fitness and I am very excited to see how he progresses. He could have easily had two assists today and he showed flashes of what makes him such a brilliant striker. Once he is sharp and fit our front 3 are going to be very difficult to contain.

    I just hope LE has learnt that the days of a Busi/Xavi/Iniesta MF are well and truly over. They can play in different combinations with Rakitic, Rafinha and Masch but not all together, and certainly not when Busi is clearly not fit. I feel like LE copped out today and went for the easier, tried and tested team, as opposed to going with what he seems to be trying to build.

    Where is Rafinha btw? How was he not on the bench today? I am sure he could have added more to the team than Roberto!

    One other thing, while it doesnt serve as an excuse I think the fact that both Messi and Neymar both got carded early on today really effected our game negatively. The system today required a high press to contain the counter and when 2 out of your 3 forwards are on a yellow and the 3rd is nowhere near match fit, well the high press is going to suffer. Everything just backfired.

    All in all, bad day at the office, not many positives, lots of negatives. However this is clearly a team in transition that will need some time to adapt and I will gladly give them time. They have given me so much joy over the past 10 years I can be patient and hopefully see them come together as I believe they can.

    Lets also not underestimate how good this Madrid side is. Physical, dynamic, pacy and determined. They fully deserved their victory today.

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