God bless you.
That’s all you had to say.
Was it really so hard, LeBron? Or did you think we wouldn’t see you hacking Dirk’s vicarious lung in the tunnels? Ah, the highs and lows of sports. Chortling with D-Wade on Thursday night, sobbing into your headband three days later. Schadenfreude has never tasted sweeter for this neutral observer. That oh-so-campy Nike commercial seems rather apropos these days – What should I do? What should you do, indeed.
The biggest drama the NBA Finals provided this year was a bit of playground fisticuffs, at the expense of a 7-foot kraut with a 101 fever. Amusing, certainly, but it seems rather tame in comparison to, say, this season’s QuadroClasico, or really any meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid since they started pulling each other’s pigtails in 1902. But despite all the sucker punches, groin kicks, and su madre jokes, Spain’s sternest rivals have maintained diplomatic – albeit impassive – relations throughout the years, even finding time to exchange players. Bernd Schuster, Figo, Laudrup, and Saviola all traded in their blaugrana jerseys for the famous white kit, while Luis Enrique joined Barca from the capital side. Granted, these jugadores felt the derision of their former fans (one cule, apparently a fan of William Golding, threw a pig’s head at Figo), but judicious club presidents will always value good business foremost, especially if it means putting one over on an old adversary.
It is in that spirit that we offer 2011’s hypothetical part-exchange between Barca and Real, a trade of players not at all grounded in reality, but that we believe would offer positive results for both sides – at least in some bizzaro fantasy world where symbiotic rivals work for mutual survival (What would happen if LeBron and Dirk traded places? I shudder to think). This experiment presents two conundrums: that Real Madrid has much greater depth than Barca and thus more players to offer, and that Barcelona has more players that fall into the ‘untouchable’ category (Xavi in white? Gag me with a spoon). We circumvent these issues with four players who might find the grass greener on the other pitch.
Our first transfer fills one of the only spots where Madrid doesn’t have much depth – left back. This season, they’ve relied on either Marcelo and Arbeloa. The former, while showing typical Brazilian flair in attack, lacks a lot of defensive sensibility. The latter is a natural right back who has been deployed in a makeshift role on the left in the past two seasons. While not a bulwark himself, Maxwell is more reliable in the back than his compatriot and thus may provide cover in games where Mourinho needs a bit more consistency from his backline. As for Arbeloa?
He’ll be sent away to Barcelona and played at right back, where he was deployed during his stint at Liverpool. Barca will have two dependable left backs even after the Maxwell transfer (Abidal and Adriano), but won’t have any cover on the right for Alves, save for the aging Puyol (who really does his best work challenging balls through the middle) and a couple of youth prospects. If the club doesn’t sign a center back this summer, Arbeloa can also start on the left if need be (Abi has been pushed into the stopper role during Puyol’s injury spells leaving his slot open).
Unlike Barcelona, who almost universally employ the 4-3-3, Real Madrid have been the much more dynamic team tactically this season. However, in their preferred formation (4-2-3-1), they lack a bit of depth on the attacking line. In this formation, Mourinho has preferred to play Ozil through the middle and Ronaldo and di Maria on the wings (the two switching depending on the opposition). Madrid have a throng of second-stringers able to play through the middle, but few who are comfortable on the wing (the exception is Pedro Leon, but his capabilities are restricted to the right side). Despite playing centrally for PSV, Afellay has featured mainly on the wings this season for Barca, coming on as a sub and using his pace and dribbling to (relatively) positive effect. His positional range bodes well in Mou’s ever-changing system.
The forward line is arguably Barcelona’s thinnest area, with only Afellay and Bojan providing insurance behind Pedro, Messi, and Villa. Iniesta can play on the left, too, but is better utilized in the middle. Benzema, who has never been in complete favor at Madrid, may find himself surplus to requirements if Mourinho decides to buy another striker this summer. We’ve decided to offload him to Barca, where his tendency to drift to the wings makes sense in the French braid that is the blaugrana attack. He’s pretty good on the ball and passes well in tight spaces, which certainly helps in this system, too. But most of all, his finishing is clinical, which would do no harm to a team that can be wasteful in front of goal at times.
Bonus Kind-of-Silly Uber-Hypothetical Transfer
Let’s imagine Milan fail to exercise their option to buy Ibrahimovic, who returns to Barcelona. (What an awkward changing room session that would make for.) Anyway, because Madrid still need a good target man and Barca could use a playmaker on days that Xavi takes a rest, we present to you the following exchange:
Ibrahimovic (ST) to Madrid
Ozil (CM/CAM) to Barcelona
Ya never know.
What do you think? How could these two sides improve? What would happen if Messi and Ronaldo traded places for a day? Leave your comments below, and don’t forget to follow us @O87minutes.