Real Madrid fans are still hurting from the 0-4 thrashing at the hands of Atletico Madrid a week ago in a La Liga clash at the Vincente Calderon stadium. So when their club registered a listless home win against league minions Deportivo 2-0 at the Bernabeu, there was no cheering but jeering and booing. Picture and videos of Ronaldo’s birthday celebrations post the Atletico debacle didn’t help matters one bit.
The Los Blancos fans cannot be blamed for feeling so. The momentum that careened Real Madrid to the very top of world football towards the end of 2014 seemed to have evaporated with the beginning of the New Year.
Out of the ten matches played this year, Real have won just 6, lost 3 and drawn one. For a team that won four major titles in 2014, the UEFA Champions and World Club title included, and played some of the most dazzling football seen in recent times, this is mediocre stuff. The wins came only against lesser opposition. The year began with a loss to the fifth-placed La Liga team, Valencia, 1-2. Their three encounters against city rivals Atletico haven’t resulted in a single win; Los Blancos were eliminated 2-4 on aggregate by Atletico in the Copa del Rey round of 16 last month.
Much of Los Blancos’ recent mediocre showing could be attributed totheir talisman and Footballer of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo’s poor form. Coming out of a three-match suspension, the Real Madrid icon hasn’t been able to find his natural rhytmn in recent matches. Ronaldo along with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale comprise probably the most feared striking trio in contemporary football and their combined 50 goals from the last 59 matches are what propelled Real Madrid to the top of La Liga this season and helped them come up with a flawless performance in the UEFA Champions group stages. At home, in the La Liga sweepstakes, Real ‘s position may be under threat. Although they lead with 57 points, they are just a point ahead of their Spanish arch-rivals Barcelona who are in the throes of a spectacular mid-season revival. Much in contrast to Real Madrid’s performance in 2015, the Catalan club have won all their last eleven games.
Real Madrid’s Achilles heel has been their poor mid-field and defensive play of late. Three of the four goals in their 0-4 loss to Atletico Madrid were due to sheer defensive lapses. Iker Casillas, considered to be the best goalkeeper in the world was below his best letting one slip through under him. Toni Kroos, Sammy Khedira and Isco could not cover important spaces in the midfield allowing the opponents to exploit the gaps created by them. Ronaldo had just one shot at the goal and that too, wide. Intermittent injuries to the likes of Luka Modric, James Rodríguez, Sergio Ramos and Pepe haven’t helped the club’s clause either.
The coming week will see Real go into the round of 16 UEFA Champions clash with German club Schalke 04. Although the German club is no great shakes and Los Blancos are expected to beat them without much difficulty, coach Carlo Ancelotti will have to resolve serious issues like Real’s defense if his club are to make further progress both in the European front and at home. The awesome “hit on the breaks” tactics that won them so many games last season may not work well with a brittle defense to back them up. Moreover, clubs like Bayern Munich that bore the brunt of such tactics last season will be better