An assortment of random observations and revelations after Real’s encounter with fellow Madrid-based side Rayo Vallecano.
1. Kaka is finally starting to show glimpses of the Kaka of old.
While Kaka still has some way to go before he can reclaim his place as one of the world’s top players, his recent performances should make Madridistas cautiously optimistic. Kaka has always been reliant on short bursts of pace to beat opposition defenders, but we’ve seen very little of that since his arrival from Milan due to his injury woes, which often made him reluctant to turn on those afterburners. But his speedy, dynamic runs and changes of pace have been in display over the last couple of weeks, a sign that his confidence in his own body is slowly returning. In addition, we’re seeing more of the intelligent passing and subtle footwork that made Kaka the best in the world not too long ago.
At the start of the season, I was quite pessimistic about Kaka’s prospect, but his last two performances have made me alter my position somewhat. Ozil will remain Mourinho’s first-choice playmaker and will enjoy a lot more minutes than Kaka, but I think we will see some very crucial and telling contributions from the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner over the course of the season. Here’s hoping he manages to stay off the treatment table.
2. Ozil and Kaka can be accommodated in the same line-up… but don’t hold your breath.
The 6-2 victory against Rayo Vallecano showed that Ozil and Kaka can play together in a 4-3-3 without stepping on each other’s feet. While they are both playmakers, they have very different strengths. Ozil’s close control and passing range are better than Kaka’s, but Kaka is faster, stronger and has a better shot. However, we definitely won’t see the two play together in difficult, high-stakes encounters as it means the midfield is short of a ball-winner. But it is certainly something Mourinho should consider more often in home games. A 4-3-3 formation with Ozil and Kaka in midfield simply means more ball possession and more chances created, which gives Real a better chance of killing games off against teams that come to the Bernabeu just to defend.
3. Raphael Varane is one of the best defensive prospects in the game.
Varane plays with a maturity and assuredness that belies his youthful appearance. What makes his performances all the more impressive is the fact that he barely played 25 games for French minnows Lens before making the move to the world’s biggest club. Many eyebrows were raised when Varane was signed, not because his talent was in doubt but because many of us were skeptical – with good reason – about whether a raw 18-year-old could really manage the jump from the bottom echelons of the French Ligue 1 to the high-pressure, high-expectations atmosphere of Real Madrid. But clearly, Zizou saw something in him and as a result, Real Madrid have landed a player with frightening potential.
Varane has all the qualities to become a complete defender – speed, strength, aerial ability, tactical awareness, technical proficiency, a decisive tackle and good ball-playing ability. At 18, he still essentially has the physique of a boy – but as his body grows and develops into his beanpole frame, he will become a giant of a defender. In addition to being a very astute defender, he is also an attacking menace from corners and set pieces. His improvised back-heel goal against Rayo Vallecano made him the youngest non-Spanish player to score for Real Madrid in a competitive game. It is the first of many goals we are likely to see over the years from a defender who is set to become a fixture for both Real Madrid and France in the coming years.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo is the best penalty kick taker in the world
Ronaldo hasn’t missed a single penalty kick since joining Real Madrid – and he’s taken plenty. While some people believe that penalty kicks are nothing but a lottery, truth is that when a player strikes and places the ball as perfectly as Ronaldo did in both his penalty kick strikes against Rayo Vallecano, goalkeepers have precious little chance of saving it. Scoring penalties is a legitimate skill unto itself – as is saving them – and Ronaldo is currently its best exponent. His penalty strikes against Rayo Vallecano – a thunderbolt into the roof of the net and a subtle chip down the middle – showcased his unmatched penalty-kick taking ability. No active player is as accurate and consistent at penalty kicks as Ronaldo.
5. Benzema is positively oozing confidence
Whether he starts or makes an appearance of the bench, it’s quite obvious that Benzema’s confidence is nearing its peak. Aside from his clinical finishing, his work-rate, movement, close control and decision-making have all been excellent so far this season. It was Benzema who began the attack for Real Madrid’s sixth goal against Rayo Vallecano with an accurate spreaded pass out to Ozil on the right wing. And when Ozil slid the ball back to the Frenchman, he opted for a first-time finish despite having enough space and time to take a first touch to settle the ball. It was the finish of a confident striker who is enjoying his football. It looks like Benzema is set to have a fantastic season for Real Madrid. I told you so, didn’t I?
6. Rayo Vallecano have unearthed a gem in Lass Bangoura.
While few people would have heard of Lass Bangoura before Real’s encounter against their humble cross-town rivals – I certainly didn’t – the 19-year-old’s performance at the Bernabeu suggests that he could be a star in the making. While it is close to impossible to find videos of him on YouTube, that may well change in the years to come. The Guinean showcased speed, trickery and energy for the 90 minutes against Real Madrid and managed to skin both Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. Rayo Vallecano’s scouting system has done tremendously well to find a player like Lass in a country like Guinea, which unlike traditional African powerhouses like Nigeria or Ghana, isn’t known to produce great footballers. Interestingly, Lass hasn’t even made his debut with the Guinean senior national team, but that is certain to change following his eye-catching performance at the Bernabeu.
7. It’s good to have Rayo Vallecano back in La Liga.
Rayo were in the Spanish top flight for the first five seasons that I started following Spanish football, and I’ve always had a soft spot for them. Against Real at the Bernabeu, they endeared themselves to Madridistas with their brave attacking football which had Real on the backfoot at times. It was nice to see a small team really come at Real Madrid in the Bernabeu which is something of a rarity these days, when most teams simply come to the Bernabeu to park the team bus in front of goal. While both their goals were due to glaring errors by Real Madrid players, their overall performance was deserving of two goals. Indeed the final 6-2 scoreline was a bit flattering to Real Madrid.