May 14th – Balance, the key to continuous success

Balance to a squad is absolutely critical; this is true for every club in the world from Barnet to Barcelona. In regards to a formalized definition of the word balance within soccer (besides players staying on their feet) I am referring to the understanding that each player has with one other that they comprehend their roles and duties on the pitch, while still understanding those roles are dynamic and situational; and of course that said roles and responsibilities mesh with one another. Yesterday was prime evidence of what happens when a superb team that has imbalance within their starting 11 faces a team with immense quality coupled with brilliant squad balance as Juventus continued their march to Berlin at the expense of Real Madrid and the teary CR7.

I think the match yesterday is one that Gooner supporters should look at and think we are moving in the perfect direction. Rather than attempting to build around individual stars, we have stayed on the path of developing a cohesive unit that feeds off one another and makes one another better and Juve showed us exactly what is possible when teamwork and team balance are at the forefront of the team’s ideals.

First looking at Real Madrid, it seems like ages ago that they were en route to their 22 straight win and brimming with confidence. At this present moment, they look certain to end the season without winning La Liga and they’ve now missed out on making the champions league final, while their biggest rival has. Mix in a dubious future for their manager Carlo as well as Gareth Bale and add in Ronaldo walking off the pitch immediately after the final whistle alone while the rest of his teammates stayed on the pitch and took the beating from Madrid fans, the side once brimming with confidence could not be less balanced relative to their elite competitors.

Starting with the back, as an intelligent Real Madrid fan once told me, “When Marcelo and Carvajal play together, I am terrified.” This comes with good reason, as the full backs refuse to understand the simple concept of that when one wing back goes up, the other one tucks in with the center backs and stays back. Sadly, this doesn’t seem like enough fun for the naturally attacking Marcelo and Carvjal, which leads to Madrid being exposed more than they would like or frankly need to be, thus creating an imbalance in the back-line with players lacking discipline. Take Sergio Ramos for example, an exceptional footballer and one of the few players on Madrid that consistently shows heart. He still contributes to the imbalance within the side because while playing center back he still makes rash challenges, runs up the pitch or positional decisions that shows he either doesn’t fully understand his role, or does but chooses to form his own. This is in no way a criticism of the quality of Madrid’s defensive players; it’s the fact that the discipline is absent for them in comparison to topside’s defensives.

Moving in to a midfield with arguably the most technical ability and flair in the world, there is an absurd imbalance that frankly is hilarious. Once again, as I discussed with the Madrid fan mentioned above he continuously reminded me how Madrid were missing Modric, and how that would have made the world of difference. The reason why that is so true is because Modric is the one midfielder now that Alonso is gone and essentially so is Khedira (remember him) who grinds out the defensive work; not just making tackles and interceptions, but putting himself in the right spots position wise to curb oppositions attacks and aiding the other midfielders with constant communication and a mental work ethic. Plus, the fact that Madrid hasn’t been able to win big games without Modric in the side is humorous because they are a top 3 side in the world with so much talent, yet they rely on one player to run their midfield. Conversely, without Modric Real’s midfield looses that leadership and balance as a result of having three midfielders, Kroos, Isco and James who all are exquisite attacking players, but lack the discipline and the expertise to provide Madrid with the midfield stability it is missing.

Granted, if you had those three at your disposal with an injured Modric, it wouldn’t seem too crazy to play them together rather than deploying a more defensive minded player. It must be said that the quality of those more defensive minded players is not up to par with the rest of the Madrid midfielders, such as Lucas Silva and Illiramendi, but that is the fault of Madrid management for not sculpting a more balanced midfield in terms of personnel. Furthermore, I would argue that sacrificing one of the three of Isco, James, and Kroos for a ball winner, or someone who will keep the midfield organized, would allow the other two midfielders to be more creative and free rather than having to worry about a pile of defensive concerns. Isco is naturally a CAM, as is James, and Kroos is naturally a deep lying playmaker. All three are now playing different roles, and while they have succeeded for vast periods over the course of the season, these are not the roles they have spend years and years of development focusing on and they were no match for the balance and intelligence of Juve’s midfield.

Finally, up top is the worst imbalance of all. BBC (Bale Benzema Ronaldo) at this time a year ago was the most feared trio potentially in football history, now…not so much. The inability to get even remotely close to involving Ronaldo and Bale equally has become a major negative for Madrid, with Bale becoming more and more frustrating as a result of his role at the club and how polar opposite it is compared to his role and duties he had at shit Spurs. It was also clear that Ronaldo is unhappy with how things are going as well, I couldn’t give any indication over what was irritating him, but the one time in recent games that CR7 chose to pass instead of shoot within the box yesterday, he looked so upset with himself for doing so he almost starting bawling immediately after.

Compare that to Juventus: A backline that fights like savages every game to hold tight leads and takes pride in their defensive discipline and tactics, a midfield that has it’s playmaker in Pirlo, an organizer and work horse in Marchisco and two dynamic box-to-box midfielders in Vidal and Pogba who can contributes in endless ways offensively and defensively in order to get the win. Up top, Tevez is an absolute animal chasing defensives with brilliant pressure and as formed a formidable and smooth combination with Morata.

Sure, people can argue that Madrid has more talent and more stars, but that couldn’t mean less as they could not match the Italian side in heart, discipline, work rate and overall squad cohesion and this was all evidence over the 180 minutes the two sides played. It will be extremely interesting to see how Madrid move forward from this, and it will be even more interesting to see how Juvetntus fare against Barcelona, even though Barcelona are in rampant form and look as though they can’t be stopped; if there is any team that could buckle up, focus and stay true to their tactics and match plan, it’s Juventus. (Barca will still beat them, thanks MSN)

The imbalance in the Madrid team and the incredible balance to this Juventus team speaks volumes about star studded teams; as both serve as great examples for what a top club should look for in terms of developing a certain squad structure. Look at Arsenal now for example, we have Coq and Cazorla, seamless compliments to one another with Coq’s tenacity and defending coupled with Santi’s technical prowess and ability to poke balls away from opposing players feet. Then you have Ozil, drifing and gliding around the pitch trying to find the ball just to give it off to a teammate every time, the man is always looking for the assist. Throw in Giroud, whose runs to open space for others and lay offs with his back to goal are essential to Arsenal’s play and allow the Arsenal midfielders to have so much space to run into. (Not to mention the goals he brings) Not forgetting our player of the year last year and the likely recipient of the award this year. We have the energizer bunny and cross country runner in Sanchez and Rambo, two players who regardless of the minute or score line, will run and work to win the ball back and bring energy to the match, this combined with brilliant attacking play and a team that prides itself on free flowing team football.

Therefore, yesterday’s match served as a strong reinforcement that while it’s fun to watch all the best attacking players play together, it is pivotal for a team’s success to have players with different and dynamic roles that the whole team understands and stays true too in most cases. Also, helps contributes to the point that Arsenal don’t need to do much this summer as the squad in place currently has so much depth and balance. Still, I would have no problem with a lad like Pogba joining trust me, I just think the need is not nearly as strong as it was even six months ago.