Three months into the 2017/18 European football season and Real Madrid is struggling.
After winning back-to-back Champions League titles and a major double last season, los Blancos were expected to continue their dominance. And they looked set to do so after their performance against Manchester United in the European Super Cup and their thrashing of Barcelona over the course of two legs in the Spanish Super Cup.
It was the Merengues who were flying while their arch-rivals were — and technically still are — in the midst of a bureaucratic crisis, which everyone anticipated would spill over to the field. Instead, it is the Blaugrana and not Real Madrid who find themselves having a good run in all competitions— sitting comfortably atop the league, look set to top their group in the Champions League and have comfortably progressed to the next round of the Copa del Rey.
Real Madrid, in contrast, are sitting fourth in La Liga — eight points behind Barcelona, are most certain to finish second in their Champions League group, and turned in an embarrassing performance at the Bernabéu against third league team Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey.
There are a number of reasons behind the club’s misfortunes. They haven’t been able to field the BBC in months, players are off-form, Ronaldo and the team in general are shooting blanks, injuries have taken a toll— Bale and Kovacic both suffered serious injuries— and most importantly, the club hadn’t sufficiently replaced Morata, Mariano and James.
Things could get worse for the team too.
They are about to begin a rather difficult schedule. They travel to Basque country to meet Atheltic Bilbao on Saturday, who are themselves in the midst of a small crisis. Los Leones currently sit 16th in the league but when it comes to, their league position doesn’t matter. The San Mamés is a notoriously difficult stadium to play in and can be a source of disappointment for Real Madrid.
Los Blancos then welcomes Dortmund to the Bernabéu on Wednesday for their final Champions League group game of the season, followed by Sevilla three days later. The club then travels for the Club World Cup semi-final and final between December 13th and 16th, and then it’s back to Spain for El Clásico on December 23rd in the Bernabéu.
This is a very crucial period for Real Madrid and they are all must win games, with the exception of, maybe, the game against Dortmund.
The tides could— and have to— begin to change for the club starting on Saturday. Zidane was able to welcome back Bale to the team on Tuesday and his return could coincide with a turn in the team’s fortunes. His cameo against Fuenlabrada was what prevented Real Madrid from being the laughing stock of La Liga teams in the Copa, as he had a hand in both goals.
A lack of goals and an out of sync backline has been a great source of pain for Real Madrid this season and Bale’s return could remedy that to an extent.
The reigning Bundesliga champions were utterly thrashed by the big-spending PSG at the Parc des Princes. Bayern failed to cope with the Parisians’ pace on the break and paid for it dearly as Dani Alves, Cavani and Neymar all got on the scoresheet to demolish the Bavarians 3-0.
It was a fairly surprising – given Bayern has a number of talented players in their ranks – and telling result.
The game sent a message of intent from PSG and their quest to conquer Europe- even if it costed them almost €500 million. But the game also exposed Bayern’s flaws and Ancelotti’s, sometimes, questionable personnel selection.
Bayern showed that without Neuer in goal their defensive mistakes must be kept to a minimum because their second string goalkeeper, Ulreich is nowhere near the class of his countryman, which he has displayed on numerous occasions. At the weekend he cost his team two points with a huge blunder against Wolfsburg and against PSG he wasn’t much more convincing. He probably could have and should have done better on the first two PSG goals, although his defence did little to help him on the first.
Ulreich isn’t alone to blame though. The men tasked with protecting him failed to do their jobs against the Parisians and were often run ragged. They were sluggish and frankly unsure how to deal with the pace of PSG’s front three. The full backs had especially a torrid time trying to contain Neymar, Mbappé and the overlapping defenders, Alves and Kurzawa.
Alaba was especially made to look incredibly foolish by Mbappé, who easily dribbled past the Austrian and from a tight angle took a shot on goal, which Ulreich managed to save but Martínez wasn’t quick enough to get the ball away and Neymar was perfectly positioned to poke the ball home for the Parisians’ third of the night.
While the score was a tad bit surprising, the most shocking thing on the night was Ancelotti’s decision not to start the trio Hummels, Robben and Ribéry but rather opted to pair up the very slow Martínez with the young and inexperienced Süle, while choosing to start James- who had a very quiet game- alongside Lewandowksi and Müller.
Hummels is Bayern’s and Germany’s best defender and he has experience at this level. He would have been a better partner for Martínez in front of Ulreich. On the other hand, Robben and Ribéry are great and experienced players, though ageing. However, they would have been a better selection than James and Tolisso to start in Paris. Not to take anything away from both players but James struggled to get into Real Madrid’s starting 11, which is why he ended up on loan at Bayern and while Tolisso is talented this is new for him- his move to Bayern is a massive jump in quality and expectations from that of Lyon.
Ancelotti’s decision to substitute both James and Tolisso at the start of the second half was a good idea, as both players were quiet in the first half but his choice to send in Rudy and Coman, while his team was chasing the game, was equally as risky as his decision to start with James and Tolisso instead of Ribéry and Robben.
Ancelotti isn’t all to blame though, because he has limited options in his squad and the club’s back office did little to reinforce the squad to be more competitive for this season. The team has started to age and they have lost quality players like Lahm and Xabi Alonso to retirement and didn’t replace both adequately. They’ve also sent the brilliant Douglas Costa on loan to Juventus and new signing Gnabry on loan to Hoffenheim; both players are thriving in their new environment.
Lewandowksi himself has seen the problem with the club’s transfer policy and has publicly lambasted them for it; quite understandable from an ambitious player. Club officials (Rummenigge and Hoeneß) have since rebuked Lewa’s complaints and continue to say they will not participate in paying the current market’s egregious prices and as such are only seeking to pay what they believe is a fair price; but they should ask Arsène Wenger how that is working out for him and Arsenal.
By rejecting the current market’s inflated prices, the club is then left with the option of continually plundering and weakening their Bundesliga opponents, which has in part contributed to their dominance in the league- they’re now gunning for their sixth straight league title- and it isn’t at all surprising that they’ve been unable to compete on the continental stage since Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning season.
The market is absolute garbage and we can all agree on that but that’s where we are right now and in order to be competitive they have to consider spending more. No one is suggesting the pay €200 million for a player but surely €41.5 million- the club’s record transfer fee paid- can’t be their absolute ceiling. Even Wenger is starting to recognise that there is no way around the market and rumour has it he is considering a €98 million bid for Monaco’s Lemar in the next window.
Bayern is certainly struggling and has failed to achieve any semblance of consistency under Ancelotti this season but he isn’t solely to blame and players and club officials alike should equally shoulder the criticism.
Rumour has it Hoffenheim’s Nagelsmann will be the club’s next coach but the question is, will Ancelotti finish out the season at Bayern?
Five games into the 2017/18 La Liga season and Real Madrid is already seven points off the pace and currently sits seventh in the table. They’ve won a meagre two games, drawn two and lost one.
Zidane’s men haven’t played terribly so far this season but they have been abhorrent in front of goal, creating a myriad of chances but failing to put them away. An incredulous feat from a team that has Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.
Ronaldo was banned for five games for shoving the referee in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. He missed the return leg of the Super Copa and the first four La Liga games, so naturally, Real Madrid was happy about his expected return against Betis but that went sour pretty quickly.
Before last night’s game against Betis, Real Madrid had scored in 73 consecutive games but the team was unable to get anything past ex-Madrid man Adán, who made a number of man-of-the-match worthy saves. Coupled with the Betis goalkeeper’s spectacular display, both Bale and Ronaldo weren’t at their best. Ronaldo had a torrid time in front of goal, skying numerous shots and Bale on the other hand, was in and out of the game but had one brilliant shot on goal that saw Adán conjure up a miraculous save to deny him.
While los Merengues have struggled to bury their scoring opportunities, both Mariano and Morata have hit the ground running for their new clubs. The latter was sort of a saviour last season, coming on as a substitute to score or lay-off the winning goal.
Bale has had a slow start to the season scoring only once and has thus far contributed very little to the team’s play and dynamic. Benzema, before his injury against Levante, was creating chances but hadn’t put away any of his efforts.
Mayoral’s presence in the squad was already a bit risky and his introduction into last night’s game says the club needed a striker in the summer and should have made the effort to replace Mariano and Morata’s departure. He’s a promising player with an abundance of potential and his unfortunate loan stint at Wolfsburg means he hardly had the chance to really hone his skills and therefore, including him as the only backup to Benzema was an absurd decision and could prove to be truly disastrous. Will he be able to provide the team with goals in dire moments the way Morata was able to?
Real Madrid find themselves in a precarious predicament and it will be difficult to claw themselves out of this position. They have failed to make the Bernabéu a sanctuary so far this season and have picked up a paltry two points out of a possible nine. And of the five official games they’ve played at home, the team’s won two, drawn two and lost one.
Los Blancos will certainly find form as the season drags on, but in a league where so little points are dropped and there’s very little between the top two, seven points behind a Barça team that seems in fine form, despite their troubles in the boardroom, will be a tough ask for thewhites. Even more so, as they have yet to meet their toughest opponents- the likes of Sevilla, cross-town rivals Atlético and arch-rivals Barcelona.
In his post-game press conference, the ever so composed Zidane said, the team has to “remain calm and focus on the next game. La Liga is a long competition”. He may be right but his team no longer holds their destiny in their own hands.
As we’ve known for the past few weeks, Ousmane Demebélé has been AWOL since he’s gotten word that Barcelona desperately wants him. He’s refused to show up for training and has since been fined and suspended by Dortmund for his lack of professionalism. According to German newspaper Bild, he’s last been sighted in Monaco.
It’s never easy for players to resist the allure of playing for a top club, especially when that club is two-time treble winners Barcelona, which also has one of the world’s best players of all-time on their team.
It’s also difficult to resist the enticement of playing in the best league— based on UEFA’s ranking. And while both Dortmund and the Bundesliga, in their own right, are right up there with the best teams and leagues respectively, Barça and La Liga are far more attractive options.
So who could really forgo all that allure? Established players, the likes of Suarez, Rakitic, Modric, Ronaldo and Bale were all unable to fight the temptation to join their current clubs and immediately made the move when the opportunity presented itself. If those players couldn’t resist the urge, how could a 20-year-old rising star possibly do so?
There’s this theory from psychologist Frederick Herzberg, called the Two-Factor Theory. This premise basically suggests there are factors in the workplace, which affect job satisfaction and those which affect job dissatisfaction. The theory makes a distinction between two groups: Motivators and Hygiene factors.
Motivators are described as intrinsic factors arising from work conditions and affect job satisfaction. Some examples of them are: self-actualisation, recognition, opportunity to do something meaningful and a sense of importance.
Hygiene factors, on the other hand, are extrinsic to the work and affect job dissatisfaction. Examples of these factors are: salary/wages, benefits, status, work conditions and good pay.
According to Herzberg, hygiene factors don’t lead to higher motivation or job satisfaction but a lack of these factors can lead to job dissatisfaction. Motivators, conversely, lead to job satisfaction and increased motivation but don’t necessarily eliminate job dissatisfaction.
It’s worth noting here that Herzberg didn’t see job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction as opposites. He saw it the following way:
the opposite of job satisfaction as no job satisfaction and,
the opposite of job dissatisfaction as no job dissatisfaction.
Considering the information available to us, Dembélé already earns above average wages, works under fairly good conditions and seems to get along with the majority of his peers, which means the likelihood dissatisfaction exists is pretty low— conclusion: no dissatisfaction. He, however, feels that he’s done enough at Dortmund and achieved all he could, which means he sees no job satisfaction and the only way to achieve this is to seek a new challenge, currently offered by Barça. What normal, ambitious person doesn’t have a desire to accomplish more and even more so when the opportunity to do so is banging at the door?
So, while most of us may think Dembélé only wants this move because of the increased pay which comes with it, it is worth considering that it’s equally likely and possibly more logical that he’s pushing for a transfer to Barça because he:
has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like win the Champions League— an unlikely feat for Dortmund this season, with or without him.
has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like win the league and though plausible at Dortmund will prove difficult to do, considering Bayern is so dominant.
has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like take on a new challenge in a new and better league
can feel a “sense of importance” by being able to compete and win every possible trophy.
can feel a “sense of importance” by becoming a regular at a top club and playing with one of the world’s all-time greats.
can feel a “sense of responsibility” by becoming the player who satisfactorily fills the colossal aperture left behind by Neymar.
So before we condemn and bemoan him and deem him a money grubber, it’s worth considering the need to fulfil his potential, something Dortmund can no longer offer him.
As is tradition in the Bundesliga, the reigning champions Bayern Munich opened the season at home to a fairly new look Bayer Leverkusen.
The champions— who had a surprisingly underwhelming pre-season and really won the German Super Cup as a result of terrible finishing and defending from Dortmund— looked dominant and could’ve [and probably should’ve] run rampant over Leverkusen, coming away with only a 3-1 win. An incredible display considering the Bavarians had three new signings in their team, lost two amazing players in Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm to retirement, and were also missing other valuable starters through injury— Neuer, Boateng and Thiago. Also missing from the team through injury was superstar James, who is on loan from Real Madrid.
Leverkusen’s new coach chose a fairly offensive line-up, which didn’t pay off as expected and the Bavarians were dominant in midfield having been allowed far too much space to run amok.
New signings, Corentin Tolisso, Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy, were in the starting line-up for Bayern and both Tolisso and Süle were able to notch a debut goal, while Rudy bagged an assist— Süle scored in the 9th minute, getting on the end of a Rudy free-kick and Tolisso finished off a corner in the 18th minute after a poor clearance from the goalkeeper sent the ball into the path of Vidal, who then found Tolisso with a neat chip to the back post.
Süle partnered Hummels in the centre of defence in wake of Boateng’s absence and looked impregnable alongside his countryman, while Rudy, Tolisso and Vidal made up the three-man midfield. Tolisso was lively throughout the game and linked up well with his new team-mates, managing to create a number of chances including one moments after scoring, which hit the inside of the post.
Sven Bender made his debut for Leverkusen alongside Jonathan Tah in defense but was utterly out-played by Bayern, and his new team was unable to get anything going in the first half, with the exception of a couple of chances from Mehmedi and Volland. After finally making it to the starting 11, Leon Bailey was a ghost for die Werkself and was swiftly substituted at the start of the second half for Julian Brandt, who brought some life to their attack. Leverkusen’s livelier second half efforts were rewarded in the 65th minute through Mehmedi’s belter after a lay off in the box from Brandt.
Also making it’s debut in the Bundesliga was the video assistant referee (VAR), which was called upon by the referee Tobias Stieler in the 51st minute to identify a foul on Lewandowski by Aránguiz in the penalty box.
Bayern looked thrilling and played scintillating football, all without key players. They look set to once again dominate the Bundesliga and make it six titles in a row. Their squad also has depth, which will come in handy in the Champions League.
After an extraordinary season and having etched their names into the annals of history, Real Madrid looked a magnificent team that never really needed any additional [big name] signings given their strength in depth. However, based on the wants of players, there were always going to be adjustments. Some of which could either propel the team to the brink of invincibility or see them unravel after a near perfect 2016/17 season.
The team’s goal is to maintain stability and bolster the squad, where necessary. Selling too many [important] players would be a disruptive path to continued stability, which raises a number of questions: how has the club performed in the transfer window so far? Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little? Are they making reasonable moves?
Before answering those questions, we should ask ourselves: what were Los Blancos’ weaknesses despite a glorious double — winning the Champions League and La Liga, an accomplishment not experienced by the whites for more than 50 years — and making history by becoming the first team to win the continental title back-to-back since the era of the Champions League?
The first answer that comes to mind, is the need for bolstering the defence. Real Madrid would have actually lost quite a few games without the likes of Navas, who was in especially fine form towards the end of the season and their incredible players in attack, who just enjoyed outscoring their opponents in games.
Then there was the problem of keeping everyone happy, including those who played a fringe role — James, Coentrão, Danilo, Nacho, Kovacic, Mariano and Casilla — and those who wanted to be more than just a regular substitute — Isco, Morata, Vazquez and Asensio. Zidane was clearly an excellent motivator and had for the most part convinced the majority of players of their importance to the team, even when they didn’t play as regularly as they’d have liked. He even managed to persuade Ronaldo that he needed to be fresh for the final lap of the season and to achieve that he had to accept that he wouldn’t be able to every game.
That was last season and while he succeeded, some players were not going to be convinced for the upcoming season and wanted to seek opportunities outside of Real Madrid.
Los Blancos has since sold Danilo (ca. €30M), Morata (€65.6M plus add-ons) and Mariano (ca. €8M) to Manchester City, Chelsea and Lyon, respectively. James has been sent to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Coentrão was loaned to Sporting Lisbon for a season and Pepe wasn’t offered a new deal, thereby making him a free agent.
Fairly good business, as Coentrão was injury-prone; James, though brilliant, apparently had a poor attitude in training — if the rumours are to be believed — and he obviously wasn’t a favourite of Zidane’s; Danilo never quite unlocked his full potential at Real — partly down to Carvajal’s constant brilliance —, and was especially prone to mistakes in defence. Pepe was an ageing defender, who at some point had to be replaced, granted Real could’ve done a better job of “phasing” him out; Mariano showed flashes of his brilliance when he was given the opportunity to play and if he can fine tune his talent at Lyon, Real will certainly activate his buy-back clause; then there is Morata, a special case. Incredibly talented player, who in his own right had to move on if he wanted to become more than a super sub, as there was no chance of him breaking into the starting line-up as long as the BBC was still active in Madrid. And at 24, it was now or never and he chose now.
Has the club sufficiently replaced the players gone?
Returning to the club is centre back Vallejo, who spent a year on loan at Frankfurt and was a main stay in the starting 11 for the Bundesliga club. The 20-year-old had a solid loan spell at the Eagles and helped his team to the German Cup final. He has extremely good concentration on the park, rarely loses the ball and is a tidy passer. He does need to work on his aggressiveness when trying to win the ball back and his aerial duel —he had a meagre 1.2 tackles per game according to WhoScored and he won on average 2.2 aerial battles per game last season in the Bundesliga. He does have promise and under the tutelage of both Ramos and Varane and with experience overtime he could develop into a defensive super star. His signing is an overall useful and reliable one both for the present and future.
Also returning to the club is Marcos Llorente, who had an impressive loan spell at Deportivo Alavés. Llorente comes from footballing royalty — his great uncle is Real Madrid legend Paco Gento and his father is Paco Llorente Gento, a Madrid legend in his own right. Young Llorente seems to be following in their footsteps, as he was a constant in the starting line-up at Alavés and helped lead his club to the Spanish Cup final. He was able to exhibit his quality, while gaining experience with the Basque side. He doesn’t have any explicit weaknesses, has excellent tackling abilities and is great at breaking up the opponents’ play. Per WhoScored he had an average of 3.8 tackles per game, better than Sergio Ramos’ season average. He’s also a neat passer —he had an average pass quota of 87% last season. Llorente is without a doubt a rising star and is only 22. He will have the chance to hone his skills under the guidance of players like Ramos, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Varane, et al. His return has bolstered los Blancos’ already strong midfield and provides necessary cover for Casemiro.
Borja Mayoral, is one of Madrid’s most promising forwards and has already been compared to club legend Raúl. He had a torrid time on loan at Wolfsburg last season, not because of his lack of quality but rather the perpetual chaos that broke out at the club and the problems that ensued —the club changed coaches several times. However, Zidane has always been a fan of him and the 20-year-old looks set to replace Morata in the squad, even taking over the Chelsea man’s old squad number. His lack of playing time at the Wolves meant he hardly played a role for Spain at the U21 European Championship this summer and made a solitary appearance as a substitute. Considering the scarcity in playing time and inadequate experience, his presence in los Blancos’ squad doesn’t seem all too encouraging but he at least deserves a chance and he’s excelled at the youth level, which may translate into success for him in the first team.
With Coentrão gone, Marcelo needed a deputy. The club needed a player who isn’t prone to injury and capable of stepping up to the plate when called upon. Theo Hernández is exactly that player and at just 19 he could develop into a long-term fixture at Real Madrid, especially under the tutelage of the brilliant Brazilian. Theo, like Marcelo, loves to dribble and can deliver lethal crosses into the box. He also has a wicked left foot and can punish teams from dead ball situations— not that he’ll have a chance to put it to use often, if ever, but it is nice to know he has it in his arsenal. And in a team as fluid as Madrid, his runs down the left could see him start cutting into the box more and punishing the net with that left foot of his. Excellent signing.
Replacing James and bringing in ample cover for Kroos and/or Modric was crucial for the club this season. As we saw last season, los Blancos had trouble at times filling the boots of both the German and Croatian. That’s where Spanish football’s newest prodigy comes in. Dani Ceballos, with his nimble feet and stunning dribbles, enjoys breaking ankles and leaving players dead in his wake. The young Spaniard had an outstanding U21 European Championship and was named player of the tournament. He holds the ball well, can deliver scrumptious passes, tends to get fouled a lot because of his sensational dribbling and gets involved defensively with strong tackling. He does however, need to work on his finishing. It must be frustrating for a player with his skill and talent, who can’t finish off one of his menacing runs. He is nevertheless a massive talent and a player capable of filling the boots of Modric and/or Kroos, when they’re injured or when they choose to move on. One for the future.
Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little?
The club has done some good business so far, with the exception of not filling the spot left open by Danilo’s departure and the apparent faith placed in the inexperienced Mayoral.
The open right back position may well be filled by either Álvaro Tejero or Achraf Hakimi, both talented young players, who’ve both been impressive for the youth team and were standouts during the club’s pre-season tour. However, like Mayoral, they could either turn out to be brilliant players, who can handle the weight of wearing the white shirt or they could all crack under the pressure.
Placing confidence in these youngsters is a bold move from Zidane but their performances in pre-season show they may well be ready for the demands that come with the badge.
The fact los Blancos has been able to keep their core team together and replace fringe players sufficiently, they seem set to continue their success. Additionally, all the signings made so far means the club has also made an effort to build for the future —the average age of the squad is 25.6 years.
Heading into yesterday’s Champions League final group stage game, there were still a few undecided groups- who’d take top spot and who’d play Europa League. One such group was group F, which consisted of defending champions Real Madrid, last season’s Bundesliga runner-up Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Polish league winners Legia Warsaw.
Real Madrid went into the game needing a win to secure top spot, while Sporting Lisbon needed a mere point to secure a spot in the Europa League. However, things went sour for both the Spaniards and Portuguese.
Real Madrid led 2-0 after 53 mins into the game only to have Dortmund mount a comeback just after the hour mark through Aubameyang and then went on to hit the equalizer in the 88th minute through Marco Reus. Thereby, pipping the defending champs to the top spot.
Group winners: Arsenal (Group A, ENG), Napoli (B, ITA), Barcelona (C, ESP), Atlético Madrid (D, ESP), Monaco (E, FRA), Borussia Dortmund (F, GER), Leicester City (G, ENG), Juventus (H, ITA)
Group runners-up: Paris Saint-Germain (A, FRA), Benfica (B, POR), Manchester City (C, ENG), Bayern München (D, GER), Bayer Leverkusen (E, GER), Real Madrid (F, ESP), Porto (G, POR), Sevilla (H, ESP)
Based on Los Blancos’ second place finish they could be drawn against either of the following teams on Monday: Arsenal, Monaco, Leicester City, Napoli or Juventus.
Whilst, had they won the group, they could have been drawn against either: PSG, Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen, Porto, Benfica or Bayer Munich.
In their current predicament, Real Madrid’s worst case scenario would be Juventus- a strong defensive team, which has proven tough for them to defeat over the past few years, while Arsenal on a good day could pose some threat. The other teams aren’t without their merits and could all provide a serious threat to the defending champions, but they would all be considered outsiders when placed alongside the Merengues.
However, had they taken top spot, there are at least three teams they’d want to avoid so early in the competition: Bayern Munich- the team they’d most want to avoid and PSG and Manchester City- two teams that could be tricky on a good day.
Based on that, I believe Zidane and his men have possibly dodged an extremely difficult opponent in the round of 16 and could take this second place finish as a blessing in disguise.
Let’s see what happens on Monday and who Real Madrid are pitted against. Both Leicester City and Monaco would be the perfect choices but also not teams to underestimate.