05 Oct Real Madrid face an identity crisis as pressure grows on Lopetegui
Real Madrid’s 1-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday evening was the latest in a run of poor results for the European champions, who are now without a single goal in their last three competitive matches.
This is a run which is new territory for Los Blancos with it requiring you to look all the way back to January 2007 to find the last time when they went three successive matches without a goal. This came under Fabio Capello’s tutelage, although you may remember the team did go onto end the campaign as LaLiga champions by virtue of having a superior head-to-head record against Barcelona.
However, in October of 2018 such an outcome looks altogether more unlikely as Julen Lopetegui presides over the biggest struggle the club has faced since Rafael Benitez was briefly in charge of the club.
CSKA Moscow isn’t a particularly talented team, they were torn apart by Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United on two occasions last season, although Fyodor Chalov certainly looks like a player capable of performing at a much higher level after his display at the Luzhniki Stadium on Tuesday.
Real Madrid never even really challenged them, it was an insipid performance with the only real goalmouth action coming in injury time when Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, was sent off.
Marco Asensio is a player who can make things happen at any given moment, yet even he is finding life difficult at the moment. Matches are passing him by and the continued absence of Isco through a bout of appendicitis has left Los Blancos rudderless in an attack.
Inevitably the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo will be continually brought up, and Keylor Navas even admitted on Tuesday evening that the Portuguese international’s presence is a miss.
“You can’t cover the sun with just one finger,” he told media in the mixed zone on Tuesday evening.
Fortunately for Los Blancos Barcelona haven’t taken advantage of either of their recent domestic disappointments, but there are concerns that the team faces an identity crisis as we head into the winter months.
Real Madrid has become so accustomed to winning that such a poor run is alien to them. Now this isn’t as simplistic as the players not being able to handle poor results, but moreover a reliance on Ronaldo’s goals developed over time, so much so that it became an automatic response, rather like the muscle-memory phenomenon. With Ronaldo now physically gone, the reliance upon him remains for a period, and it was just expected that he would deliver and save Los Blancos in Russia on Tuesday, but it wasn’t possible.
Julen Lopetegui took the Real Madrid in less than auspicious circumstances. It would be awfully unfair on him if he were to end up paying the ultimate professional price before he’s had a chance to stamp his mark on the club truly. That is what will happen if his players don’t start producing their best form quickly.
Nor is Lopetegui fully to blame either, it was clear for anyone to see that Karim Benzema had a consistency problem over the course of the last two seasons. You can’t sacrifice your goal-scoring ambitions and talent to help Ronaldo and the team and then suddenly be expected to shoulder almost all the goal-scoring burden, ask Wayne Rooney at Manchester United once Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez departed.
It should come as no surprise that Benzema, despite a positive start, hasn’t been the goal-scoring machine he was at Lyon, that player no longer exists within the Frenchman’s physical shell. Despite signing Mariano Diaz, a more prolific forward should have been recruited, a true game changer. It’s staggering that Los Blancos didn’t truly test Chelsea’s resolve over wantaway Eden Hazard, especially with the Belgian the best performing player in world football at this precise moment.
One of the overriding feelings is confusion at Real Madrid right now, especially amongst supporters. To fully understand this delicate situation, you must look back at the state of affairs when Benitez was callously axed in January 2016 after a complete breakdown of player trust in his tactics.
At that precise moment Perez was public enemy number one in the Spanish capital. His transfer policy wasn’t working overly, and clubs were beginning to overtake Los Blancos in the market and many were uncomfortable at the constant changing of coaches. Perez’s approval rating was at an all-time low, so much so that Ramon Calderon considered running for president once more.
However, by June 2017 Perez was re-elected as president unopposed with the mood around the club one of jovial celebration and comparable serenity. What had happened in the period between Benitez’s arrival and the elections you may ask? Zinedine Zidane had overseen two successive Champions League triumphs, becoming the first club since AC Milan achieved the feat in 1989 and 1990.
It’s very difficult for supporters to look at matters relating to their club’s off-field fortunes when things are going well on the pitch, and they shouldn’t be criticised for that. At the height of Manchester United’s anti-Glazer protest movement Sir Alex Ferguson was still winning trophies and it never caught on in the same way it would have it began at the current moment.
Real Madrid supporters need to see a positive, vibrant attacking team to be satisfied and they aren’t seeing that now. Although the white handkerchiefs are yet to come out, quite simply, the fans are as surprised by goings-on as everybody else. Nobody involved in the club saw such a slump coming, even if it was quite clear there would be a drop off in performance.
Lopetegui appears a clever tactician unable to steer a ship that is battling against tricky winds. He’s been left woefully understocked in attack and that is already showing in negative results. Why was the pursuit of a goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois, admittedly a world class operator, prioritised over really pushing Chelsea into selling Hazard, especially with it impossible the club would have allowed both to leave?
Why is the dream of signing Neymar and redeveloping the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu taking up so much of Los Blancos’ summer focus whilst Lopetegui is desperately asking for further reinforcement?
Some may call it karma for how the former Porto coach left the Spanish national team and orchestrated his path to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, but already you’re wondering whether Perez has led him up the garden path, doomed to fail.
Results can quickly change perceptions, and Los Blancos may well soon find their sea-legs and begin to motor once more, but the performances against Sevilla and CSKA, more specifically the latter, have highlighted a team with real difficulties that will only fester and get worse without attention. All the while supporters are watching the soap opera unfold, unsure how to react, especially with Perez and his flamboyant style of presidency having led them out of the mire as recently as 2016.