MADRID - The addition of Lassana Diarra and Klaas Jan Huntelaar to the Real Madrid ranks may give them extra solidity in the centre and some much-needed firepower up front but will not solve the club's defensive frailties. Splashing out a reported 40 million euros ($56 million) on the pair is also a significant financial risk given that neither the 23-year-old French midfielder nor the Dutch striker, 25, have proved themselves at the highest level. Even with their first-choice defenders fit, the Real back line has looked shaky this season and the Primera Liga champions have already leaked 26 goals in 16 matches, compared with just 10 conceded by leaders Barcelona. That's only 10 short of the 36 goals Real let in during the whole of last season, which was the best defensive record in Spain's top division by a clear margin. Italian World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, 35, is obviously well past his best, Gabriel Heinze is dangerously erratic and has a tendency to get himself sent off and Christoph Metzelder is still searching for the form that once made him a regular in the German side. Among the wing backs, Marcelo appears well out of his depth, Sergio Ramos has been a shadow of the player previously regarded by some as the best right back in the world and the creaking Michel Salgado lacks mobility. It seems only central defender Pepe, who has been out injured since the start of this month, can be relied on to perform with something approaching consistency. It is a worrying situation for new coach Juande Ramos, who has said he also wants to sign a winger in the winter transfer period to complement Real's only real threat going forward, Dutchman Arjen Robben. He has not, however, asked for any defensive reinforcements, at least not publicly. BORN FIGHTER Former Chelsea, Arsenal and Portsmouth midfielder Diarra, known as "Lass", has been brought in as cover for his Malian namesake Mahamadou Diarra, who is out for the season with a knee injury. His style of play has been compared by some with that of former Real and Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele, whose ball-winning skills and strength in possession are exactly what Ramos's side lack. At his presentation to the media on Monday, Diarra said it was an honour to be compared with his French compatriot but that he wanted to stamp his own mark on the side. "We have things in common but I want to demonstrate in Madrid who I am," he said at a news conference. "I am a born fighter. I have always shown that. A defensive midfielder who wins the ball, who can also play wide on the right. "At Chelsea I was young and it was hard vying with very experienced players. I have matured at Portsmouth and I believe I am capable of competing." Huntelaar, meanwhile, has big shoes to fill, having come in as a replacement for fellow Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose season was also ended by a knee injury. It remains to be seen in the new year whether scoring goals in Spain will come as easily to him as finding the net in the Netherlands.
22 December 2008
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