Real Madrid’s Spanish Art of War: the Cavalry

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We have discussed the Catalonian siege, the Valencienne ambush, and the arrows of Villareal. Now we turn our gaze to the most basic and brutal of the Spanish warlords – the cavalry of Real Madrid.

The cavalry, not to be confused with infantry or chariotry, historically had the distinct advantage of collective mobility. This mobility allowed the forces to outflank, overwhelm, and surprise, sometimes all at once. Additionally, the psychological impact of a mounted solider on adversaries should not be underestimated.

From Asia to the Middle East to Europe, the use of cavalry raised and ruined empires. Similarly, Real Madrid has a roster chocked full of talent from across the world, with Malis, Argentinians, Spaniards, Dutchmen, and Frenchman. Some have criticized General Pellegrini for not instilling a patient-passing approach like at Barcelona. However, the lack of ten foot sideways passes should not hide a coherent game plan: run. Then, run harder.

Make no mistake – this edition of Madrid, despite the cashsplashery, is not “Galacticos Part Two.” Cristiano Ronaldo may dazzle with step-overs like the Brazilian Ronaldo before him, but the team lacks a proper Zidane to spin spells on the field.

Instead, Pellegrini has tossed caution to the wind and focused on mobility on and off the ball. Madrid is not a team built from the back, but rather a tireless unit of attack. Just as the defeat at the Battle of Carrhae taught the Romans the importance of the cavalry, last season’s dreadful 6-2 showing at home forced Madrid into its current incarnation.

The problem with the cavalry is the double edged sword of mobility – if you push bodies to spot X, then they leave spot Y vacant. If Arbeloa overlaps Ronaldo, or Diarra pushes up to the support the attack, then that leaves Madrid exposed numerically at the back. While Iker Casillas can stand on his head from time-to-time, the cavalry is inevitably a high risk-reward endeavor.

Still, as Khalid Ibn Walid learned at the Battle of Yarmouk, the greatest asset of the cavalry is its ability to regroup mid-battle. While this Madrid side has hemorrhaged early goals, the blanquillos have also treated fans to various remontadas.

Against Sevilla, Madrid conceded two soft goals before the cavalry regrouped, licked it winds, and galloped back into battle – unleashing a furious rally that ended with a now famous 3-2 victory.

Against Sporting Gijon, the cavalry got caught too far up the field and the Gijonese countered, springing the offside trap to eek out a goal. However, news of this golcito soon reached the front guard. Enraged, they trampled the hapless Gijonese. Higuain delivered the mercy blow, but first ran rampt over soldier after solider.

On the eve of the clasico, with Real Madrid and Barcelona level on points, the fate of La Liga hangs in the balance. But which tactics will determine the battle? Will the cules slither about the pitch with slick passing, slowly asphyxiating the merengues? Or will Madrid run over, under, through, and around the Catalans

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