Where will James Rodriguez fit in for Real Madrid?

The European Cup win, the décima, didn’t stop Real Madrid’s president Florentino Pérez . History repeated itself and Perez wanted to add another galactico to his side, replaying the successful experiment started in 2002 with the signings of Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. So why mess with a winning formula?

The next ones

The choices have been Toni Kroos, impressive performer and World Cup winner with Germany, and Colombian standout James Rodriguez. The hire of Kroos for a relatively cheap fee could become the steal of the season while Rodriguez was expensive and Madrid paid a lot for him. Kroos had just year left on his deal and it lowered the price fro bring him away from Bayern Munich.

The injection of both Kroos and Rodriguez could mean a tactical change for Real Madrid’s head coach Carlo Ancelotti. Last season the Italian manager implemented a kind of 4-3-3 shape featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale out wide with Karim Benzema parked through the middle of the final third.

Madrid tactics now and then

This formation was often switched to a more classic 4-4-2 with the team out of possession, with Ronaldo playing as a No. 10 just behind centre-forward Benzema. But the key man on this system was Angel Di Maria. The Argentinian was acting somewhere between an interior midfielder and a left-winger, providing the needed defensive balance playing out wide with Madrid defending. Di Maria also contributed offensively, providing more assists than everyone in the 2013-14 season.

However, Di Maria is the next  Real Madrid star who is likely to depart since Madrid allowed Mesut Özil to leave last year. The question is how Ancelotti will change his pattern to maintain Madrid performing despite all this turmoil.

The midfield is loaded with offensive flair featuring Xabi Alonso, Asier Illaramendi, Kroos, and Luka Modric but has just one holding midfielder in Sami Khedira, should the German stay as he’s looked as another potential departure.

Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo, Rodríguez, and Isco are the men suited to fill the creative spots behind Benzema. With this abundance of offensive tools, how Ancelotti will fix his team is a thing to watch. Playing all four of Rodríguez, Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale is the challenge although it could leave Madrid a bit unbalanced.

For Ancelotti this is not a new as Madrid’s manager already faced this task while leading Milan to three Champions League finals in the span 2003-07. Ancelotti did it with a Milan loaded with central playmakers, often playing Kaka, Rui Costa, Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo in central midfield at the same time out from a Christmas Three.

Truth to be told, Ancelotti changed his mind after the famous 2005 Champions League final against Liverpool, adding a couple of holding midfielders in Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini.The way Ancelotti will made Kroos and Rodriguez workable is interesting.

An option for Ancelotti, suggested by Michael Cox  — is to build a 4-2-3-1 formation with James, Bale and Ronaldo as the offensive midfielders supporting Benzema. It can work in some games but could falter in the bigger ones as it seems too offensive oriented, leaving just two defensive position in the middle of the pitch with Modric and Alonso not suited to play the holding role.

Rodriguez’s defensive orientation also is debatable. In fact, while Cox pointed out that ‘James…is very disciplined…capable of dropping back into the midfield zone…[and that] he can also put in some strong tackles,” other analysts are much more cautious speaking about Colombian defensive attitude.

Effectively,  Di Maria proved, against criticism, to be a hard worker while Rodriguez flourished as a classic a No. 10 but didn’t show that he  can play as a third interior midfielder or to drop back into the middle of the pitch helping the midfielder when the ball is lost the same way the Argentinian did last season.

Therefore, there is an option to employ Rodriguez out wide or as attacking midfielder in a new Christmas Tree,  somewhere in between the middle of the field and the final third. Colombian is at his best at linking player, it meaning he could operate up front providing through balls to Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo. Another option at Ancelotti disposal that recently came out looks at Rodriguez as a ‘false 9′. It make sense as Rodriguez could draw away central defenders opening spaces for Bale and Ronaldo. It could work, especially on some situation even if this option would mean for Benzema to be moved out from the starting lineup.

Conclusion

Wherever Ancelotti will line up Rodriguez, The Colombian’s arrival represents the bigger task the Italian manager will have to face, even bigger than that relative to Kroos. Are Madrid ready to support Ronaldo, Rodríguez, and Bale all together behind Benzema?

Can someone defend with Ronaldo and Benzema paired up top with Bale and Rodríguez flanked out in wider zones? Is the Frenchman, an architrave of Ancelotti’s last season game plan, expendable? Is Ancelotti ready to change team’s formation creating space for a true No. 10? Would the ‘false 9’ spot suit Rodríguez?

Those are the questions Ancelotti has to solve. Some fortunes of Madrid’s next season would depend on how quick the boss will be able to answer them.

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