Saturday, 9 May 2015

OSM - Curious Case of Sami Khedira

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In 2012 The Guardian newspaper quoted the details of a training ground bust up between the then manager, Jose Mourinho, and defender Sergio Ramos. The story was released into the public domain by Spanish sports dailies and was intermingled with quotes from veteran club goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. A rift became only became worse as the season progressed, culminating in Mourinho’s departure in 2013 and his return to Chelsea. All made more necessary when Jose declared his interest in a Premier League job in the post-match press conference that had ensured Madrid’s elimination in the Champions League semi-final.

Two seasons later the current manager, Carlo Ancelotti, faces a return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu trailing Juventus by 2-1 and reliant on both Casillas and Ramos to secure a second consecutive Champions League final appearance. A worrying fact given the performances of both in Madrid’s most recent matches and a number of very fragile performances. However the Italian manager remains unwilling to spot the obvious weakness in his current selection citing that it has proved successful against Atletico Madrid in the second leg quarter-final. Delivering a win once again in Sevilla a week ago, and fielded for the third time in Turin. Albeit the latter with more costly consequences.

In the continued absence of Luka Modric through injury, it appears that Sami Khedira is not even considered an option, with Ancelotti almost dismissive of the idea at the press conference ahead of the visit of Valencia on Saturday. A strange response to provide when a half fit Khedira can at least play in the middle of the park and probably keen to put on solid display to be even sold by the club - if nothing else. Which all contrasts for a player who under Mourinho was an immovable object and played over 40 times in each of those seasons. Yet since Ancelotti’s arrival the German has only managed half those appearances over two seasons combined. This year only being involved in 11 games and then unavailable again in February due to injury.

On that basis it appears that Ramos will continue as the midfield option on Wednesday night with Casillas holding his choice under the posts. This despite the availability of Keylor Navas and the growing rumours that David De Gea is the object of Madrid’s desires for next season. But only if - according to reports – if the role for Casillas still exists at the club in goal. Which seems rather strange and harks back to the immovable force that was Raul Gonzalez and the mythical powers he supposedly exerted over every new manage at the club. 

In the end Mourinho shockingly shipped Raul to Schalke-04 and won a La Liga title and Copa del Rey without the Madrid stalwart – and life moved on.

No doubt the youngest person to have ever kept goal in a Champions League final has a CV that is the envy of any player - both at club and international level. As national team captain Iker has also collected a EURO 2012 trophy; 2010 World Cup and Champions League trophy. And as the country’s most capped player the only thing that can beat him these days is Father Time. But with each match those weaknesses are becoming more apparent. However since recovering from a hand injury in the second half of the 2012/13 campaign, Casillas has remained Ancelotti's first choice in every fixture in the Champions League. 

The performance in Turin though showing up some of his defensive frailties along with his poor quality throw-outs to Marcello. A weakness which nearly cost Real a goal in the Atletico home game.

In terms of Ramos the fault lines were similarly visible playing against the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Morata and Jorge Vidal. His ball distribution very poor and ball retention even worse, enjoying the worst of his recent three games in that position. Even the return of Gareth Bale did not make it look any easier for the club captain against Juventus. Probably because the Welshman was just back from injury and unable to settle into the pace of the game. But with Khedira out of favour - and apparently still injured - it seems that Juventus may continue to exploit Ramos' lack of positional sense in the second leg.

For Khedira there must be nothing but puzzlement as he was the first name in the team sheet under the previous regime. Even if his game was not always that deserving. This season to be alongside compatriot Tony Kroos seemed to make eminent sense. But since picking up a problem playing in the 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid some weeks ago he has missed the wins over Deportivo and Elche in La Liga. Off the field the 27-year-old World Cup winner has been the subject of intense transfer speculation over as he nears the end of his deal at the Bernabeu. While he wants to stay there is no sign of any agreement on offer. 

It may be little solace that since his arrival from Stuttgart in 2010 - as a promising young star - Khedira has delivered on the promise and was doing so until a serious injury in 2013. Something which cost him his regular spot with Joachim Loew national side for a while and was made worse in Brazil last July when he was injured in the pre-match warm up of the world cup Final against Argentina in the Maracana. Nevertheless almost ten months Sami still has no regular role in the Real Madrid midfield which seems bizarre given his credentials - winning La Liga, the Champions League, the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup, as well as the Copa del Rey on two occasions.

Surely a natural midfielder is a better option than co-opting a right back and central defender into the role. But with only 11 starts this year under Ancelotti, and just 13 last year, it seems that Khedira is not on Ancelotti’s radar. Or is the pressure of going against a club stalwart more fearsome for the Italian and Ramos proving another one of those immovable objects at the club. Who knows?

But failure to bring in La Liga or repeat the Champions League victory will ensure Carlo Ancelotti’s two year deal at Real is not renewed. Most likely by mutual consent as there are a number of appealing jobs at top European clubs now on offer. Ancelotti would be a logical target for Manchester City no doubt.

In addition the Club President, Florentino Perez, has been less ardent in recent months than he was at Christmas time about renewing the Italians’ deal as a priority. All usually an indicator of sorts that Perez’s mind maybe wandering elsewhere with Juergen Klopp, Luis Enrique also available. As the most valuable club in the recent Forbes listing and a valuation of $3.26 billion means hiring those big names will not prove a financial problem for Perez. 

For Ancelotti though it's business as usual and in his press conference ahead of the Valencia visit he spoke highly of Ramos once again:

“He can play in a lot of positions because he has my belief. He has done very well. I don't think it is reckless to play him in midfield. That is how we beat Atletico and Sevilla. If I have to put him there I will do it again".

“If necessary I will do it again because I have got good results from it, but that doesn't mean I don't have confidence in the rest. I think about line-ups every game and what I am most confident with. There was no planning error. These are moments where the coach takes a decision based on matches".

A loss at home on Saturday will end all hopes of winning La Liga. Hopefully Ramos and Casillas proved immovable objects and deliver a vital win for their manager.

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