Real Madrid’s misery continued in the League with a 3-2 loss at Malaga. This follows the two dropped points against Espanyol in their attempt at catching up with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. The situation becomes even more perplexing given the fact that in both these games, we performed well in one half and switched off in the other.
With these results, Real Madrid go a staggering 16 points behind Barcelona into the Christmas break. Atletico Madrid, the city rivals, are 7 points ahead. Malaga are only 2 points behind.
The question now which needs answering is, where has it gone terribly wrong for Real Madrid? We’ve dropped 18 points so far this season in the league and it’s end of December (we dropped 14 points the entire last season). I will try to list what I think are the problems – some may be hypothetical and some might just be knee-jerk, emotional reactions.
- Complacency – On a few occasions this season, we’ve taken foot off the gas and tried to settle in on games with little advantage. It was possibly the reason why we dropped points against Espanyol. Di Maria had come on as a substitute at half time, things changed dramatically. Di Maria provided more width to the attack and we looked better in attack. There were standout chances for Cristiano, Di Maria, Arbeloa to put the game beyond Espanyol’s reach but Kiko Casilla was at his best in goal. This is not acceptable at the top tier of Football and more so in competitions such as Champions League.
- Set-Pieces – Mourinho did brush off the question on set pieces after the draw against Espanyol but even he and his coaching
staff would be able to see how vulnerable and woeful we are when it comes to set-pieces. It can be in the form of corners, free kicks or crosses put in the centre of the box and our defence is seen to be in absolute disarray. It has been our biggest weakness this season and we’ve lost a lot of advantage because of them. Up until two weeks back, we had conceded 12 goals in the league and 7 of them had come from set-pieces (58%). While there are more teams which have conceded more goals than us, but their majority of goals conceded aren’t set pieces. Does that reflect on our defensive problems in the communication or are we just clearly inept to defend against set pieces? Thankfully the mistakes were identified and we had more (all?) men back to defend corners and free kicks against Malaga.
- Defensive changes – Throughout the season we have played with different players in the back four. The changes have sometimes been due to injuries (especially at left back with Marcelo and Coentrao’s absence) and also with many rotations happening. The centre back pairing has fluctuated based on the competition and the opposition. While it would be a case for many clubs but, for us, it hasn’t worked very well. Left side was very important to our attacking buildup and without Marcelo and Coentrao, we haven’t had that luxury.
- Over-reliance on Cristiano – This year we’re relying heavily on Cristiano for the goals in the absence of Higuain and with Benzema struggling with injuries. Despite being out for a few months now, Higuain is still the second highest goalscorer in the league for us with 7 goals. The assists column has also dried up with Ozil managing three assists and Angel Di Maria having assisted only twice in the league so far. This combination of poor goals and assists has proved detrimental for us which has contributed to us drawing or losing when we should have won.
- Poor chance conversion ratio – While numbers may not reflect the right picture in this scenario but of 334 shots taken in the league by us, 138 have been on target (41.3%) of which 41 have resulted in goals (29%). Using numbers may not paint the right picture here but it is the only way we can reflect on the poor chance conversion ratio. After Cristiano, 124 shots/54 shots on goal, comes Benzema with 29 shots/13 shots on goal. Such is the disparity in attack and again proof of over reliance on Cristiano.
- Not making most of momentum – Again this may be a case of complacency but in a few games this season, we have been happy with a goal lead or a two goal lead and let it slip to make things nervy in the end. Against Malaga, we had a slender momentum after Sergio Sanchez’s own goal but we let that slip and Malaga were able to go on to lead through Roque Santa Cruz. Against Espanyol, we dominated after Coentrao’s goal right after half time but we didn’t make best use of this momentum allowing them to salvage a late point. Even against Levante in horrible conditions, we needed a Morata goal to win despite having plenty of possession and creating chances galore.
These are some of the reasons where Real Madrid need to improve to get back on track if we aim to achieve anything this season. Our poor form in the league may have ramifications in other competitions and even if we don’t manage to challenge for the league title, second should be a priority to ensure automatic UEFA Champions League qualification next year.
Now that we’re back in training for next La Liga game against Real Sociedad on 6th January and Pipita is back training, hoping the goals return and so do the wins.