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Five points on Real Madrid - with Spanish football expert Graham Hunter

Posted on 31 October 2017  - 16:04

Journalist Graham Hunter specialises in Spanish football. As a regular contributor to various media outlets including Sky Sports, he is also the voice of The Big Interview podcast and is ideally placed to give us the lowdown on Real Madrid ahead of a tantalising Champions League clash at Wembley Stadium, connected by EE, on Wednesday evening. Here are his ‘five points’ on Zinedine Zidane’s men…

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5points_grahamGraham Hunter,
Journalist specialising in Spanish football

Point 1 – state of play after the Bernabeu draw

“I watch Spurs a lot, I’ve interviewed Mauricio Pochettino at the training ground and I’m a big admirer of the way he gets the team organised but allows it to be extremely efficient and clever about how it attacks, either when you dominate the game or when you’re counter-attacking. One of the things that stood out about the first game is that not many teams come to the Bernabeu, get a draw and get a really warm reception in the Madrid media afterwards. Teams do come and draw – Levante got a point, Valencia got a point and Real Betis won in the most dramatic fashion possible and therefore I never thought Spurs coming to the Bernabeu and getting a point was a silly idea. However, very few teams come away getting a round of applause from the Spanish media and Spurs did. They got it, not only for how strategically organised and how clever they looked, but the danger that the team created. It wasn’t simply Harry Kane getting all the praise either and I’d take that as an enormous token of respect because the media in Madrid don’t leave a lot of room for praising opponents.”

Point 2 – away form

“I think Madrid are the best team in the world on the road. They’re extraordinary, but they’re not yet at full strength. This is a side that loves being on the road. They’ve got no responsibility to play. At the Bernabeu, the crowd demands that they win in enormous, crushing style and they kind of forget that teams are difficult to play against. When Madrid go on the road, not only are they the best in the world at transitions, they move the ball swiftly, not long, but through the midfield.”

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Point 3 – key players

“If Madrid go to Wembley with their current personnel available, you’ll notice the absence of Dani Carvajal at right-back. He might be the world’s most attacking right-back and his service to Cristiano Ronaldo is extremely good. When Carvajal serves Ronaldo in the air, it’s a genuine goals supply. At transitions they go through Luka Modric to Isco to Karim Benzema, or Modric to Toni Kroos to Ronaldo. That’s one of their massive threats at Wembley. Madrid will enjoy the atmosphere, the pitch and the space. If you go back and look at what they did to Borussia Dortmund, that is emblematic of what Madrid on the road have been like under Zinedine Zidane. You lose the ball anywhere on the pitch and they are capable of doing absolutely devastating things to any side. That’s where the fascination comes because my understanding is that Spurs are not a careless side, they’re full of technically clever footballers and the structure and the organisation that Pochettino has developed makes them really difficult to beat.”

Point 4 – midfield

“You’re up against three of the best – Modric played well at Spurs but the very best football of his career has come at Real Madrid. In my humble opinion, the best football of Kroos’ career has come at Real Madrid and Casemiro is deeply underestimated. He’s never been sent off in his career. The difference is that Madrid’s back four are so attacking and are given such a licence to play attacking football. Sergio Ramos has complete licence to do what he wants. The choice at right-back will be between Achraf, the youngster, and Nacho (pictured, below). I have to say, as well as Achraf has played, I think the decision will go to Nacho. He is attacking and Marcelo plays virtually as a winger, not a wing-back and therefore someone like Dele Alli (available again after suspension) is an important addition to the way that Spurs can try to open Madrid up. After all, Madrid do give away chances. I’m not criticising them but they don’t have a coach that says ‘let’s lock this match up’ – that’s not their goal. Their objective is not as old-fashioned as ‘we’ll score one more than you’ but it’s more like ‘we’ll play you toe-to-toe, we’ll outplay you and we’ll win 4-2 or 3-1.’ I’ll go further – I’m a big fan of Victor Wanyama. I think he adds intelligence, equilibrium and balance and I genuinely thought that it might be a bit debilitating that he’s not available to anchor the midfield. With that in mind, it struck me as a terrific performance in the first game and as much as Hugo Lloris played very well, had it not been for Keylor Navas having one of his games of the season, Spurs could have won.”

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Point 5 – key to getting a result at Wembley

“What I would say is that any team that wants to do damage to Real Madrid at home or away, you have to be more efficient than normal. I’m not critical of Spurs but one thing about the Premier League is that you can get away with things sometimes and it doesn’t always matter if you’re not at your most clinical because the games are more theatrical. That’s why I’m such an admirer of what Pochettino has done at Spurs – I think he’s made them a European team that plays in England. It has to be that every opportunity that comes Spurs’ way, they’re ruthless. That’s really important against Madrid, home or away – ruthlessness.”