The disappointment and frustrations of Jose Mourinho were there for all to see, and rightly so. This has been Real Madrid’s worst start to the season in a decade. Defeats to Getafe and Sevilla coupled with a draw against Valencia means Los Blancos have only picked up 4 points from a possible 12.
While in other leagues such a start would not have been so disastrous, it’s certainly the case with Real Madrid. La Liga has been dominated by the Big Two for a really long time. Last season, the gap between the Big Two and third placed Valencia was a staggering 39 points. The smart money would be on whichever team amongst Barcelona and Real Madrid gets a considerable early advantage in the league table.
Mourinho, in his post match comments lamented that he “had no team” after their defeat to Sevilla. While a lot of credit should go to Sevilla and their manager Michel for tactically outplaying Real Madrid, there is some truth to Mourinho’s comment.
Real Madrid were lackluster in their passing, giving the ball away far too often. It was Angel di Maria’s failure to track back that led to Piotr Trachowski’s goal in the 2nd minute of the game. Gonzalo Higuain, given the nod ahead of Karim Benzema to spearhead the attack, missed a glut of chances. But, perhaps the biggest contributor to the disharmony within the team is Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has made it clear he is unhappy at the Santiago Bernabéu. Whether to get his hands on a shiny new contract or a new club badge to kiss, Ronaldo’s broodiness seems to have percolated to the other players. This is a bad sign for times to come. While Real Madrid, of all teams, has had the privilege of employing some of the most gifted talents on the planet for decades, Ronaldo is probably its biggest troublemaker thus far.
Even with the Galacticos team of the early 2000′s, Real Madrid did not have problems to the extent of the one Ronaldo has created, nor were they so reliant on one man to get their goals. The Portuguese captain scored a club record 46 goals last season and was without a doubt the most important man for the Madridistas. The same cannot be said of teams that had Zidane, Raul, Figo, Beckham, Hierro and Roberto Carlos in the same eleven. Ronaldo has become so important that he could very well dictate terms.
That said, Michel needs to be lauded. Sevilla’s tactics were spot on. After getting the first goal they filled the midfield, with Rakitic in particular doing a fantastic job. Despite not being a natural defensive midfielder, he neutralised the threat usually offered by Xabi Alonso, while Hedwiges Maduro and Gary Medel controlled the midfield from a deeper position. They pressured Real Madrid and forced them into wrong passes and were disciplined in their play with Jesus Navas wrecking havoc on the right.
When Mourinho tried to change proceedings at half time by introducing Luka Modric for Mesut Ozil, he changed the formation to a 4-3-3 to obtain control of the game. Modric played a little deeper than Ozil, alongside Alonso which seemed a sensible move. Michel countered by bringing on Manu in place of Rakitic, who would’ve found himself crowded out by Modric and Alonso together.
Again, when Mourinho gave one final push by introducing the attacking Callejon for the wing back Arbeloa, Michel countered by bringing on Luna, a left back by trade, to cover the threat. Mourinho may lament the loss in team spirit, but he was matched tactic for tactic by his Sevilla counterpart.
These are indeed troubled times for Madrid, who looked sloppy even in their 3-0 win over Granada. However, there is hope and a glimpse of it was shown in the second half against Sevilla. He is the floppy haired Croatian Luka Modric. As a replacement to Mesut Özil, he was phenomenal. Dictating play with his quick feet, spraying the ball about at will and working well with Alonso. Khedira in this position does not provide much in terms of creativity. Modric, though, offers vision and distribution of the ball, along with defensive work. Even at Spurs, although he was overshadowed by the excellent tackling of Scott Parker, Modric could be seen scampering back and contributing defensively.
The fact that he prefers to play from a more withdrawn position than Özil is even better. As a deeper lying playmaker, he soaks up some of the pressure on Xabi Alonso and is equally effective at making telling passes. Modric and Alonso together in midfield could work wonders for the matches to come. This could mean an additional creative origin in the starting eleven besides Özil. Madrid needed more creativity from midfield against Sevilla.
Set pieces have also been a concern for Real Madrid, where they have looked shaky this season. Despite possessing the aerial threat and strength any team would kill for, they have looked frail.
Real Madrid need to sort their troubles on the training ground. It seems true that there are cracks appearing in the Real Madrid wall and with the big game against Manchester City in the Champions’ League looming, these must be patched up.
Real Madrid’s solidity is nowhere to be seen. Their talisman is looking elsewhere and their usually tactically astute manager is finding it difficult to comprehend his team’s play. All is definitely not well in the capital and work needs to be done to ensure Barcelona don’t run away with the title this season.
Written by Dushyant Sinha