Two defeats in a row for Real Madrid is bringing a season into sharp focus that is far from meeting the lofty expectations of supporters
1) They’ve become predictable
Let’s use some Occam’s Razor to begin with. Are Real Madrid this season’s top dog in Europe? As current champions, of course they are. Is everyone going to play against them at 100% of their potential? Again, a no-brainer.
Are managers going to scrutinize and dissect their playing style in order to find weak spots? Undoubtedly. And, unluckily for Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochettino is no beginner in this last area. Tottenham masterfully took advantage of Madrid’s weaknesses (for example, left-back Marcelo leaving huge gaps made Trippier a happy guy) and hammered its opponent again and again. Girona took a similar approach last weekend, with identical success. It’s not just about motivation and desire; Madrid are lacking in the tactical department.
2) Cristiano isn’t close to top form…nor is Benzemà
Criticism over the past couple of weeks hasn’t awakened Karim Benzemà at all. Shots fired between Zidane and former player Gary Lineker regarding the French striker’s ability to stay relevant in a hugely competitive environment hasn’t spurred a reaction from the cold-blooded forward, whose impact in games has become increasingly insubstantial and bland (only one goal in eight games).
His team mate Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be taking a page out of his book: yes, the Portuguese got a late goal against Tottenham (after bouncing off a defender), but his season to date has been quite disappointing. His early four-game ban could be the reason. Or his physical condition now that he’s 32. Or maybe his personal issues with tax authorities and growing displeasure with how his contract extension negotiations are being managed. But the fact is that he isn’t scoring this year. And that, for a player who has relied heavily on this statistical skill the last few seasons in order to accomplish his goals, is always bad news.
3) Awful midfield performances
What was once heralded as ‘the best midfield in the world’ (some Madridista outlets would do much better with some restraint in their considerations) has become one of the easiest weapons to deactivate by opposite sides. Girona, for example, drove Madrid into submission precisely by choking them in a midfield where Tony Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric are merely shadows of their former selves. Only Isco Alarcón manages to keep that magic touch that has consistently tipped the scales in Madrid’s favor: a goal here, and impossible assist there…the Malaga-born offensive midfielder is the only one who delivers when put to the test.
4) That pinch of ‘luck’ is gone
Since Zidane was handed the reins of the team (now two years since that day), the French manager has sported an impressive sixth-sense in the form of convenient, fortunate and almost-too-good-to-be-true ‘lucky’ situations in key moments every season.
We’re talking about late Cristiano goals, Sergio Ramos 90th-minute headers (where he usually pushes his way through the box), red cards to opponents, controversial penalty calls in their favor…all of them are circumstances that factor into the game and, obviously, show up more often when a team is consistently attacking and playing good football.
When that fails, the percentage of ‘luck’ drastically decreases, often moving on to becoming an antonym of sorts: offsides the refs don’t see (Tottenham’s first goal, for example), strikers hitting the woodwork, opposition midfielders bullying around your players…that’s today’s Madrid, in a nutshell.
5) Everyone knows they will easily bounce back
Maybe the most frustrating thing for fans about Madrid’s current slump is that everybody knows that (fortunately for them) it won’t last. A combination of matters have added up into an acute depression in Real’s path this year, but a team so used to winning will surely get a wake-up call soon.
It will begin with a win, more or less deserved, with more or less attractive football, and then will be followed with another win, and another. In a heartbeat, the ‘crisis’ will be gone. But these kind of sluggish periods ask questions over whether they’re ready to tackle the challenge of winning a third Champions League title, or repeat their LaLiga championship this year.
One comes away with the feeling that this squad and manager ‘choose’ the moments where they need to be at full-steam. And November doesn’t seem to be as appealing to them as April or May, when trophies and cups are won.