It’s now almost five months since Jose Mourinho was unveiled as the new coach of Real Madrid. After struggling in his first few competitive games in charge, the ‘Special One’ has finally unleashed the beast within the team. But how does his start to his Blancos career compare to his predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini?
When the ‘Casa Blanca’ splashed out €250 million to sign some of the best footballers on the planet for Pellegrini, not many would have thought the team could get any better. Indeed, a few of Barcelona’s players even taunted on numerous occasion that if Madrid wanted to sign any more of the best players in the world, they would have to tempt them away from the Camp Nou.
The new recruits that Mourinho have been showered with certainly pale in comparison in terms of profile and transfer fees. But on the pitch where it matters most, it’s a different story.
Here, we look at how some of the fresh faces at the Bernabeu from this summer have performed thus far, compared to the new arrivals at this same stage of the campaign 12 months ago.
Keep in mind that this is a comparison of how the players performed in their first two months of the competitive season in the Madrid shirt, not a comparison of their overall performances, reputation or their general attributes.
Ricardo Carvalho vs Raul Albiol
There were question marks over Carvalho’s age and speed, and whether he would really be able to help boost Madrid’s backline, considering the team have always been punished in defence due to a lack of pace. But ‘Riccy’ has proved doubters wrong so far, transforming the Blancos rearguard into a solid fortress with his astute reading of the game. Not only has Riccy been solid defensively, but he was the one who got the ball rolling at the other end, scoring Madrid’s first league goal of the 2010/11 season when his team-mates in attack were struggling to find the net.
Albiol had a more discreet start to his Bernabeu career. In the first two months’ of the season, all the media spotlight on the team was on Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka as Madrid just couldn’t stop scoring. But Albiol and his fellow defenders were cruelly exposed against Sevilla and Milan. Unconvincing defending against the Andalucians and a series of gaffes against the Italians left many a Madridista wondering if their bad habits at the back had returned. Shipping two unnecessary goals against FC Zurich and Real Valladolid didn’t help either.
Sami Khedira vs Xabi Alonso
A direct comparison would not be fair as the pair are hugely different types of midfielders. Khedira is very much a box-to-box player while Xabi is a deep-lying playmaker. One thing they do have in common, though, is that they both made cautious starts to life in Madrid.
Khedira undoubtedly had the more difficult task of the two. Not only has he had to settle into the environment of a new country and learn the language, he had to collaborate with his defenders as well as the attackers. The first three or four matches were a struggle. But he has since improved dramatically, working hard on his technique and ball control, and his ability to shield the ball away from opponents after winning possession has played a big part in Madrid’s lethal counter-attacks.
Xabi was more steady than spectacular, but he didn’t struggle to adapt in his first few games. He slotted into Pellegrini’s midfield effortlessly and immediately took charge of it. What was missing initially, however, was his amazing passing range and his ability to dictate the game with his composure and vision, two aspects that we are seeing in the present day.
Mesut Oezil vs Kaka
Like many of his team-mates, Oezil simply failed to instil any conviction into his game in the first few outings of the season. But the 2-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League in mid-September changed all that.
The 22-year-old turned in a virtuoso performance against the Dutch outfit and he has since gone from strength to strength. He is now Madrid’s leading assist maker with six in all competitions (four in La Liga) and he has also scored three goals in his last four games. The shy, unassuming German, signed for no more than €15 million, appears to be getting a standing ovation from his fans every time he leaves the pitch to be substituted. Is this an indication that Madridistas have already forgotten all about €68 million man Kaka?
Indeed, it’s easy to forget how well the Brazilian started off his Blancos career. Despite a dismal end to the 2009/10 campaign, he actually made quite a blistering start, showing a telepathic understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo right from the off, and supplying three assists and scoring three goals in his first seven games. But coincidentally, at the start of October (when Ronaldo was sidelined with injury), Kaka’s performance began to drop.
Angel Di Maria vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Very few in Madrid’s history can compare to the start that Ronaldo made in the Spanish capital last season. And Di Maria certainly can’t challenge the Portuguese, although he isn’t that far off. In fact, when Ronaldo was going berserk desperately trying to score a goal in the first month of the new campaign, it was the Argentine who provided the spark.
He scored with an outrageous solo effort against Real Sociedad, bagged the winner against Auxerre, and netted a superb header against Deportivo La Coruna. It doesn’t stop there. Although not as charismatic as Cristiano, he is just as flamboyant. The ‘Rabona’ had become Di Maria’s trademark at Benfica and he has not shied away from exhibiting his favourite move at Madrid. At the weekend against Racing Santander, he provided a sublime assist with a pin-point 40-yard crossfield pass. He has scored just three times so far, but in terms of his performances and his confidence, he is more than a match for Ronaldo.
Up to his much-publicised “voodoo” ankle injury in mid-October, the then-christened CR9 was a man on fire, scoring five goals in his very first five La Liga games for Los Blancos - nine in seven matches in all competitions - as he tore defences apart. One can only wonder how long he would’ve been able to continue his scoring run – and how differently Madrid’s season would’ve panned out – had he not sustain his ankle problem.
Jose Mourinho vs Manuel Pellegrini
After five games into the current campaign, there were genuine concerns over Madrid’s progress as Mourinho’s charges had scored just six times. The tally after the first five games of last season was 16, with a 100% winning record. But incidentally, it was at that stage where the wheels started to fall off for Pellegrini. Defeats to Sevilla in Round Six and to Milan in the Champions League was followed by the debacle that was the 4-0 defeat to Alcorcon in the Copa del Rey, a competition that Mourinho will get his first taste of this Tuesday.
But after eight league games, Pellegrini’s side had scored 20, conceded six and accrued 19 points, compared to Mourinho’s 22 scored, four against and 20 points in the bag.
The big difference, however, was Madrid’s performances against Milan in the Champions League. Although both coaches got their teams to score twice against the Rossoneri, Pellegrini couldn’t sort out his side’s defensive frailties and that led to the 3-2 capitulation at the Bernabeu. In sharp contrast, Mourinho not only organised his troops to comfortably secure three points against Milan, they comprehensively outplayed the Italians in a masterclass.
Not many would’ve thought Pellegrini’s record 96-point haul and 102-goal tally from last season could be beaten by future Madrid ensembles. But surprisingly, Mourinho is on course to better it, despite the early-season jitters and stumbles.