Is Madrid’s decline Real?


One of the greatest nights in the modern history of Tottenham Hotspur reinforced worries for Real Madrid’s faithful following. Spur’s embarrassesed the defending European champions at Wembley storming into a 3-0 lead before Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late consolation for Zinedene Zidane’s men. The defeat was Real’s second in 4 days after a 2-1 loss to Girona in La Liga. Pressure is not something the Spanish team and their French manager have been accustomed to over recent times but how can they get out of this rut?

After the defeat to Girona Sky Sports pundit Guillem Balague pointed out 2 factors that were contributing to Madrid’s struggles.

“Cristiano Ronaldo has scored only 1 goal in 6 games – of course, he will click at some point – but the issue against Girona was they didn’t create many chances.” (Guillem Balague)

Ronaldo’s drought in front of goal is a worry. But as Balague alludes to it will not last. The Player of the Year winner is a goal machine and even though he is advancing in years he still causes problems for opposition defences. Against Tottenham whenever he got the ball you could sense that something was going to happen. His ability on the ball and running at players is second to none. As well as that his movement off the ball when Madrid’s more creative forces are at work is always threatening. He is the complete forward and if the team creates he will score a bucket full of goals.

The real issue is the fact the team are not creating the chances. Isco fired the defending La Liga champions into a 1-0 lead 12 minutes into their game with Girona. In the space of 4 second half minutes the newly promoted side had turned things around and claimed a 2-1 lead. Madrid were left with over half an hour to get back into the game but failed. While they had 14 shots, 6 of which were on target, they failed to score.

While 14 efforts in a game is not shocking, they only created 1 clear cut chance in the game according to Sky Sports statistics. Girona had 1 more effort in the game and had only 39% possession.

The general consensus after the La Liga game was that Madrid took the lead and switched off. Their creative midfield players were clumsy with the ball with a pass completion rate of 85% which is under what Madrid usually achieve.

Secondly, we have seen Zinedine Zidane successfully keep everyone in the squad happy – that was key to their title success last season. He was brave enough to make changes and to give rest to Ronaldo at important times. But when things start to go wrong you need less of the man-manager and more of the coach. You don’t get that from Zidane. He depends far too much on individual quality rather than the collective team. (Guillem Balague)

This is the real meat of the problem for ‘Los Blancos’. It has been a constant wave for Zidane since he took over at the Bernabeu. The squad at the his disposal was, and still is, fantastic and his status in the game inspired them all. Hitting the ground running was key and the winning mentality swarmed through the team. Chopping and changing the team and keeping everybody happy was well within his skill set and he excelled in the role.

Now different skills are required. Struggling against a back 3 is, in the modern game, a huge issue. Tactically Zidane froze in both games. He did not change the Madrid system even though it was clearly not working. He just switched the personnel. The defenders from both the opposition teams crowded out the attackers and did not allow the creative players to link up the strikers.

Even Zidane’s attempts to alter the formation going into the games going with 2 up top did not work. In the 2 games Madrid used a 4-3-1-2 system but it could not spark an improvement in performance. Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were paired up front and had no presence and Isco really struggled, in the number 10 position, to get his game going. This made the two strikers look iscolated as the midfield struggled to control the game.

The story was similar against Tottenham. 20 efforts, 9 on target and only the single clear cut chance. Dominating possession, they had 70% of the ball, was not enough and although Spurs had half the attempts their opponents did they created 5 clear cut chances. Uncharacteristic performances from Luka Modric and Toni Kroos who were sloppy in midfield did not help the Spanish giants as they laboured through the game.

It feels as though Balague let Real Madrid off the hook slightly as he blamed Zidane’s philosophy of championing individual players rather than the concept of a team. Madrid have been like this for years. If it is Zidane’s coaching style to incorporate this he will have learnt it from his time at Real.

Even during this most recent spell of dominance Madrid have been blowing teams away with the strength of their superstars rather than great team performances. They have a rigid style in which the attackers attack and the defenders, well some of them, defend. This is not an issue with Zidane but an issue with the club.

Balague predicted that Madrid would be fired up after the Girona loss and that Spurs should be wary of their response. It did not work out like that. Zidane needs to sit down with his coaching staff and seriously discuss how they can solve this problem. They have the talent players like Marco Asensio and Theo Hernandez have to be pushing for a place in the starting eleven. Madrid need to develop and work on their team fluidity and become more balanced. They have always been more concerned with going forward but in these testing times it is vital they go back to the drawing board.

Real Madrid host Las Palmas in their next fixture. It is an ideal game for them to get back on track. Las Palmas sit 18th in La Liga winning twice out of 10 fixtures.

Madrid will be hoping that their superstars can fire up and react to the negative results. If they do not win the players and manager will be under severe pressure. The expectation is that they win comfortably against Las Palmas but, even though it goes against everything Real Madrid stand for, Zidane would take a 1-0 win to steady the ship.

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Published by

Alan Brown

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