From La Liga and Champions League winners to struggling in a fight for fourth in the table, the season has all gone wrong for Real Madrid. Here’s why…
5) A deep bench turned into a scrawny roster
It might be the biggest mistake of the lot, and it should be tracked back directly to Florentino Perez’s office. Last year, in a season where Real conquered both LaLiga and its second Champions League trophy in a row, players such as Alvaro Morata, Mariano or James Rodríguez usually managed to keep some sort of consistency with the starting line-up when they were called into action. However, Real sold all of them in summer 2017 for over 120 million euro: a welcome injection of cash, but a huge blow to the squad’s depth.
Also, signings haven’t been up to their former antics in earlier teams. Daniel Ceballos (Real Betis), Theo Hernández (Atlético) and Marcos Llorente (Alaves) promised to become worthy and young additions to an already impressive squad, but they haven’t been great on any front and their underperformance has strapped Madrid out of clear options in its line-up.
4) No chemistry between players
Anyone who watches a Real game might wonder if the players actually train together and spend time building some chemistry in the pitch. Only the really talented ones (Modric, Isco, Asensio…) seem to be keen on involving their team-mates in their plays.
As for the rest of the squad? Every time one of them gets the ball, it’s a one-man fight against all odds. Cristiano goes all-in on his own, ditto for Marcelo, Gareth Bale, Benzema – the outcome, as predictable as it gets, has thrown Madrid into a scoring drought. All the parts of the jigsaw just doesn’t go together, and that leads us to the next point….
3) Zidane isn’t just that good
I’m sure many Madridistas will rage furiously on their keyboards trying to get me out of this idea, but I wouldn’t really bother trying. It has been nagging me since day one after Zidane was handed the reins of the team and hasn’t stopped since: I have yet to see a game where the Frenchman’s direction from the sidelines changed the outcome.
As a figurehead, Zidane’s talent is incalculable. He ‘gets’ players, caresses their pride and often reminds his men that he is ‘one of them’. However, he has always been manhandled when facing against more seasoned, tactical managers. Ernesto Valverde’s masterclass last December in El Clasico is the perfect example. Zidane always chooses the same answers to problems that appear throughout any game, relies heavily on a few key players and hasn’t fostered the growth of his non-starters. Marco Asensio comes to mind: from bright, future star prospect in September to residual option on the bench.
2) Lack of signings while the market skyrockets
Zidane himself stated a few days ago that he doesn’t want any signings: he will do with what he has available at this point. And that’s a bold statement coming from the manager of the club that used to blow up the market on a yearly basis; nowadays, things have changed dramatically. Real is no longer the biggest fish in the water: other sides, like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City or even Barcelona have caught up and spend huge amounts of cash to strengthen their squads.
Take Barça, for example: Paulinho (40 million), Dembelé (105 million + 40 bonus) and newcomer Philippe Coutinho (120 million + 40 bonus) sum up a cool 265 million + 80 million in bonuses, figures that would make anyone’s head spin. Yeah, they had to replace Neymar Jr. on their team, but still, looking into Real’s spending, only goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (20 million) is set to land at El Bernabeu, and even that signing is uncertain.
1) No desire to face reality
Possibly the worst symptom of any disease might be the lack of self-assessment coming from the patient. Real Madrid is pretty sick football-wise, yet Zinedine Zidane insists on claiming otherwise every single time he speaks in front of the press. After Wednesday’s disappointing 2-2 against Numancia, he expressed “satisfaction” about what he saw on the pitch.
“In my view we’re getting back some of our qualities, we will get there”, he calmly stated. Meanwhile, the immediate future sketches a 16-point disadvantage with Barça in LaLiga, a tough-as-nails showdown with Paris Saint-Germain in the Last 16 of the Champions League and four games in the Copa del Rey if they want to reach the final. And, in the executive lounge, the situation seems to have frozen Florentino Perez on his tracks: the president trusts Zidane fully, and this might lead to a trophy-less season for Los Blancos.