Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Debate: The Ball Winner or The Goal Scorer?

Posted by: Ashay K, India

Now that UEFA.com has confirmed that Real Madrid has withdrawn the appeal filed with CAS, it’s only logical to think over who we are to nominate for the UEFA Champions League. The two available contenders are Lassan Diarra and Jaan Klass Huntelaar. So let us analyze their performances so far, compare their skillsets to the team requirements and decide on whom we need to take to the UCL.

Lassana Diarra

This springy kid from Portsmouth has come a long way by making it into Real Madrid, competing with the likes of Guti, Gago and Sneijder to be top dog. While most sports critics wrote him off as a “would be bench warmer” when Real Madrid sought his services, citing his inability to make it in clubs of a “big stature” like Chelsea and Arsenal, the defensive midfielder quickly made sure that he won over Juande Ramos and a place in the starting XI by his performances on the training ground, and later won over the crowd by his performances on the pitch.
Lassana Diarra or Lass as his jersey reads (to avoid confusion with his senior namesake in the team) has fit in like a glove, so much so that he’s been drawing comparisons with the great Claude Makelele. His work rate is unquestionable. He lasts the entire 90 minutes with still enough strength left in him to still run that extra mile, he is all over the park winning the ball, making quality tackles and breaking up the opposition’s play. However, the defensive aspect aside, he’s also a good playmaker. His sense of positioning and vision is what adds another dimension to him as a player. He makes sure that he is always well positioned to receive a pass and distribute it around the park. He has good vision to start off counter attacks and build up attacks from open play. He showed the crowd yet another aspect to his game with an inch perfect loopy lob to Raul who glanced the header to far post, the only goal which determined the final result in the game against Numancia last weekend.
This is what Real Madrid has to say about Lass’ first 172 minutes on pitch:
In 172 minutes on the pitch, Lass has recovered 18 balls (nine in each match) for an average of one every 9.53 minutes. In that same amount of time, he has 31 clearances, one every 5.53 minutes, and has proven to be a bastion in defense. On the offensive side, Lass has successfully completed 77 of 87 passes and has opened the game up along the flanks 15 times in his 16 attempts.

Jaan Klass Huntelaar

Though Huntelaar hasn’t figured as a regular starter for Real Madrid (at least not yet), the prolific striker has come up through the youth ranks of that academy of thoroughbred goal scorers, PSV Eindhoven, which has gifted the footballing world with amazing talents like Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Luiz Nazario Ronaldo (R9). He has maintained an average of 20 goals per season in the Eredivisie, which is no small feat by any means. Huntelaar is a classic example of the old definition of a “number 9”. The proverbial “fox in the box”, Huntelaar is gifted with impeccable sense of positioning, a predator’s instinct in the box and the ability to play and shoot with both feet. He is also good aerially, which is generally what seperates good strikers from the great.
Real Madrid signed Huntelaar when he was recuperating from an injury, probably his first long term injury in his distinguished career. Consequently, he has shown some good touches since his debut at Real Madrid, but has largely failed to impress. The non-performance could be attributed to being rusty after injury, but if he has to match the standards set by his dutch counterparts viz. Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben, he still has a long way to go.

Crux of the Problem

So, on one hand we have a defensive midfielder who’s already settled at Real Madrid and on the other hand we have a prolific goal scorer, who needs that 1st goal to get his confidence back and settle down into the squad. And what better stage to showcase one’s talents than Europe? But, we can take only of these two to the Champions League. So who should that one player be?
Real Madrid, as a team right now, is a wounded lion. We have one goal scorer and one defensive midfielder who would miss the entire season and we’ve signed another goal scorer and a defensive midfielder to replace them, not aware that under UEFA rules, only one of them can be registered in the competition. To add to it, we are struggling to achieve a semblance of decency in the league, while we are taking European giants like Liverpool head-on in the UCL. A wrong decision right now could hurt us badly in future. If one takes a look at our squad, they’ll realize that though we have a host of midfielders as opposed to just three strikers, we actually have only one player capable of playing that crucial defensive midfielder player role; and that’s Gago. Apart from Gago, we do have J. Garcia, but he’s simply not cut for Europe, since he lacks the quality. In all other positions, we have a host of attack minded players, but then again, the strikers department is quite depleted with the absence of Ruud Van. Raul is a great striker and Higuain is the top scorer for us this season, but in a season fraught with injuries for us, we should ask ourselves the question; What if one of them gets injured? The only other option is Javier Saviola, who hasn’t started more than 2 matches for us this season and scored just 1 goal. Is that the guy we would like to come on for us against Liverpool?
Having said all this, it is quite clear that there is a trade-off required. We have to sacrifice some aspect of our game; either the defensive aspect by taking Huntelaar to UCL or the attacking aspect, by taking Lass to UCL.


Personally, I feel we would be better off by taking Lass to the UCL. Lass has already settled down at Real Madrid. He is at home with our playing style and Gago , the fine player that he is, cannot be expected to last the entire UCL without picking up a tiny niggle here and there. With Gago gone, we cannot afford to ignore the defensive midfielder role and we’ve learnt our lesson the hard way in the past. On the other hand, even if we lose one of our strikers to injury, we do have another bonafide striker (however out of form) to come on from the bench. With Gago gone, we don’t have any other player who can take up the mantle of a defensive midfielder.
Another aspect to my personal viewpoint is our playing style. Currently we rely more on counter attacks and playmaking from the midfield rather than on individual talents and footwork from the forwards. Our forwards rely heavily on the feed coming in from the midfield and finish off the chances that come their way. In a setup like this, generally there is a less chance of strikers picking up injuries. The midfield has to bear the entire brunt. So a trade-off where we see Huntelaar resting for UCL is what we should go for, in my opinion. This would mean that Huntelaar starts getting more starts in the league and builds up his confidence levels, while Raul / Higuain is rested on some occasions to be fresh for the UCL ties.

However, that is just my viewpoint. What really happens remains to be seen. Until then, I would like your viewpoint about this.


  1. It's a no-brainier IMO. Lass isn't excellent form and we need strong central midfield in order to overcome defensive minded English and Italian teams. Liverpool won UCL 2005 with a mediocre strinking partnership of Cisse and Ramos, and we have UCL all time goal scorer and one of the most inform players in La Liga leading our attacking line. The midfield partnership of Gerrard-Xabi-Sisokko was the main reason for Liverpool's success and we should follow the same ideology.

  2. I agree with Midz, Lass has been great since he arrived proving to be an indispensable player for us right now. I think this proves that the Huntelaar signing was a bit of a fiasco as other have said. Not saying that Huntelaar is a bad player, just that he isn't going to get much playing time and come the summer with the elections more high profile strikers will be named and probably bought making Huntelaar`s chances of starting even slimmer. And the fact that Ruud will be back also.