Football Manager 2016: Managing Cristiano Ronaldo-less Real Madrid

The old adage of 'a one-man team' is frequently thrust upon Real Madrid, given their overwhelming reliance on the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo. But what happens when Ronaldo is cruelly removed by a long-term injury?

To be straight from the off-set, yesterday I started a Football Manager 2016 game with Real Madrid because, to be honest, I wanted to win things. I'd been frustrated by a couple of games with Everton and Cheltenham Town - and just wanted to manage big players on the big stage.

When I began the save I was excited about managing the biggest of big players himself, Cristiano Ronaldo. Having given it some thought, I realised I probably hadn't started a game with Madrid way back since the days of Championship Manager 00/01, where I unleashed an all-conquering side on a very different footballing world.

However, fate has a cruel way of ruining dreams and sure enough, just two league matches into my save, my hopes of managing Cristiano Ronaldo were dealt a fatal blow. Ronaldo, who had scored once and collected two assists with an average rating of 8.9, was hurt in training and ruled out for seven to nine months with damaged cruciate ligaments, meaning he's had to be removed from our league and squad basically ruled out for the entire season.

I was gutted and thought about giving up. But, ever the optimist, this injury woe got me thinking about how Real Madrid would fare without their talisman Ronaldo - both in real life and in my virtual world. Which now seems very apt, with Ronaldo currently missing the semi-final first leg at Manchester City.

Replacing Ronaldo

My initial conclusion was that we wouldn't cope very well. Real life Ronaldo had played in every league match this season until the weekend and has only missed two league games in the last two seasons. The side's reliance on him means they don't really have a backup left winger, other than Jese Rodriguez who I had already - foolishly in hindsight - sold for £7.5m to Arsenal.

Having been left in the lurch by the Portuguese's absence, and with the transfer window having already slammed shut, I was left in somewhat of a dilemma. The initial options available to me were:
  • Switch Gareth Bale to his former, and natural, left wing berth, but then who would play in his role on the right?
  • Play Isco slightly out of position on the left wing
  • Switch James Rodriguez, who strangely is a natural left midfielder but not left winger, out to the left, with Isco in his more familiar central role
  • Retrain new signing Gabriel Barbosa as a left winger
  • Prematurely promote young prodigy Martin Odegaard into the first team from Castilla to play on the left
  • Change the tactics away from the obvious 4-2-3-1 approach
None of these options seemed ideal, but to begin with I went with the option of Isco on the left. Isco's stats, below, are outstanding and he actually played pretty well from the left, he scored our only goal and played a 7.2, but we lost 2-1 at Espanyol - which actually put them top after three games. Not ideal, but I thought this may be a one-off or down to my tactics and gave it another go in our next game, a Champions League opener at Olympiakos.

This faith proved well placed as Isco ran the show against Olympiakos, scoring twice as we raced into a 3-0 lead within 22 minutes and completing four key passes. We allowed them back into it and snuck a 3-2 win, which is a concern, but Isco's performance has convinced me that he is the man to step into Ronaldo's shoes.

One potential Plan B, with those two goals conceded in mind, may be a change in formation. Bale is having a blinding start to the season out on the right flank and I'm therefore reluctant to move him, so the best plan may be to tweak the tactics a little. James hasn't started the season overly well compared to Bale and Isco so I could drop him and place another player into midfield, with Casemiro slotting in behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, who offer little defensive stability.

Both Modric and Kroos are must efficient in playmaking roles, but I was having to restrict Modric to a 'central midfielder' role. Adding the solidity of Casemiro holding behind them would, in theory, allow me to playing with deep-lying and advanced playmakers, potentially filling the loss of the number ten position.

Join me in part two to discover how my Real Madrid squad progresses and what I decide to do with the tactics in the absence of Ronaldo - with a few more difficult looking Champions League clashes on the horizon.



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Football Manager 2017 Blog: Football Manager 2016: Managing Cristiano Ronaldo-less Real Madrid
Football Manager 2016: Managing Cristiano Ronaldo-less Real Madrid
How will Real Madrid fare with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo to a cruciate knee ligament injury
Football Manager 2017 Blog
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