Real Madrid have not won any of their last five games. Yes, three in a row Champions League winning Real Madrid have not won any of their last five games. It goes without saying that some growing pains were expected for Real Madrid this season. A new manager was installed under sketchy circumstances following Zinedine Zidane’s decision to walk away having felt he had taken the club as far as he could. Cristiano Ronaldo also decided it was time to try something new and off to Juventus he went. Two of the cornerstones of Real’s recent success were saying goodbye and leaving massive shoes to be filled.
Is that any excuse though? Sure Zidane and Ronaldo combined to be huge parts of the success over the last few seasons, but it wasn’t as if they were alone. Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Luka Modric could surely argue that they were just as, if not more, impressive, but due to our propensity to value goals over anything else their endeavours were not highlighted as much as they should have been. Perhaps that is what Gareth Bale was getting at when he stated earlier in the season that Madrid were playing more like a team.
Those words are currently coming back to haunt Bale, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong. Zidane’s philosophy for Real Madrid centered around doing what needed to be done to give Ronaldo the best platform possible to do what he did best. Zidane recognised early that the BBC triumvirate he had inherited was no longer capable of playing to the levels they had previously set and thus adjustments were needed. The result was a system where Ronaldo was moved into a role limiting his involvement in the game outside of goal scoring. Whoever needed to sacrifice and alter their game to ensure Ronaldo was able to do damage had to undertake the demands of the new system.
Was it wrong to rely on a player like Ronaldo to score goals? Not in the slightest. However, as the seasons progressed minor cracks in the overall armour that Ronaldo was able to band-aid over grew and grew until we have arrived to this point. The writing was on the wall. And if you want proof, just go back to the start of last season where Real Madrid were quickly out of the title race simply because their talisman had misplaced his shooting boots while on summer vacation. Real Madrid have had problems in their team for years that many ignored.
The cooks in the kitchen at Madrid should have seen this coming, because it’s not rocket science. Madrid have moved from a team built to cover their flaws through the exploits of a super human to a team lacking a super human that now has to share the role of covering the cracks. This is a recipe for disaster.
Hung out to dry
While many won’t feel sympathy for Julen Lopetegui based on how he handled his move to Real Madrid, it’s quite evident this team needed far more strengthening than Mariano Diaz. When you consider the effects of father time, in addition to the cracks already showing and then minus a man who guaranteed 40+ goals the result of Madrid failing to bring in any serious quality is baffling. Showing faith in players already at the club is all well and good, but it was misguided to believe it would have been a seamless transition without help.
Looking back, if you had to pick two players most affected by Zidane’s work it would have to be Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema. The former is said to be the next superstar of Spanish football, but he has not delivered. It’s been argued that his constant moving between roles and positions to accommodate Ronaldo has negatively impacted his development and it’s hard to disagree when his performances without him are looked at. He shows flashes, but all should be disappointed at his development to date. On the other hand, the latter was turned into the perfect foil for Ronaldo. His goal scoring instinct has all but evaporated under his new role and while no one has tasked him filling Ronaldo’s boots it is evident that his game has been permanently changed. It’s clear the idea from off the field is that Gareth Bale would step up to take over the goal scoring burden of the team and it’s a task he has set about completing. He’s the man taking the most shots and his meagre return is a concern. As good as Bale is, Madrid were wrong to believe that he would be able to find Ronaldo level form after the struggles he has been through.
Unfortunately for Lopetegui, the pitchforks are already out. Next weekend sees the first instalment of El Classico and while Barcelona themselves have shown signs of struggle, many will expect the Catalans to come out on top. And if that is the case the calls for the jettisoning of Lopetegui will surely be answered.