The fans came to Levante, but the team let them down. How will the Submarine fare at home against the league leaders?
We welcome Gabe Lezra from the Managing Madrid blog (and SBN soccer contributor) back to our site. Gabe has been enjoying himself this year in Spain, and especially enjoying the rise Madrid to the top of the league, I'm sure! Sid, Ravi, and I asked him a few questions, and if you want to see what he asked me and how I answered, visit their excellent site here.
(1) Let's talk about this year's CL. A relatively easy win over CSKA, an easy (on paper) opponent next time on APOEL. How do you see Mou planning to rotate his squad around this next series of matches?
Madrid has been comparatively lucky with the Champions League this season: they drew CSKA in the round of 16, and now have APOEL, arguably the easiest of the quarter final teams. Mourinho does very little rotating in big games, however, and we're starting to seem some signs of wear--especially on Madrid's central midfield. Xabi Alonso, in particular, has been mediocre lately, and I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the ludicrous amount of time he's been on the field. Luckily, he'll get a day off in the first leg against APOEL, which should provide Mourinho with a good opportunity to try out some of his other pieces (Esteban Granero, Nuri Sahin) in the creative midfield role. As far as other squad rotations, some of it will depend on when Angel Di Maria, who has been one of Madrid's best players this season, will come back from his injury--if he comes back soon, we could see some major shifts in Madrid's offensive lineup; if not, we'll likely see the same formation that has taken the pitch recently.
(2) One storyline of note has been the resurgence of Kaká--at the expense of Di Maria? Who will stay and who will go?
Ultimately, Angel Di Maria is more valuable to the club. He's young, he's having one of the best statistical seasons in the entire world (18 goals created in only 13 starts), and he's actually quite good on defense (he intercepts a ball and makes a tackle every game). Kaká, however, is stil very valuable to this current Madrid side, and might be for the duration of his contract (through next season): he's still a brilliant passer, takes his chances well, and rakes in money for the team through jersey sales and merchandise revenue. The short answer is that neither of these players will replace the other: we saw how valuable having a Di Maria type is yesterday against Málaga, and we already know how good Kaká can be. If only for this season, Mourinho needs to make it work. Then, he can sell Kaká and focus on building around Di Maria.
(3) last year's Copa vs this year's Liga vs. CL ... which trophy is most important?
I know this is a cop out...but they're differently important. La Liga this season is important because winning it would signal an end to Barça's dominance in Spain. The Champions League is important because Madrid need to recover some of the prestige that they've lost in Europe (though last season did a lot to fix it). And the Copa was important because Madrid needed to prove to themselves that they could beat Barça in an important match.
(4) Do we have any reason to hope for anything other than an easy win for you guys in El Madrigal, given our recent form and the problems we have in matching up with you?
Well, I didn't think Malaga had a good chance, and we all saw how that ended. To be honest, it will all depend on how both sides come out. If Villarreal comes out to really hit Madrid, then we could see an exciting match; if Madrid gets the upper hand from the get-go, it could be a blowout. Madrid is in a psychologically fragile state right now, and if they jump out in front they might settle down--which would be a bad thing for Villarreal. If Villarreal comes out and puts a lot of pressure on Madrid's back four (and especially on their very weak wings), we could be in for a long, interesting match.