Bale to pull Real Madrid out of mini crisis?

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 Blancothen 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.

PSG’s thrashing exposes Bayern Munich’s problems

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?

 

Real Madrid’s second place finish: a blessing or a curse?

last-16
Photo courtesy of Uefa.com

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.

Sporting Lisbon had one job to do, in order to secure third spot in the group and continue their European adventures but they were stunned by the Polish, who secured a 1-0 win thanks to Guilherme’s 30th-minute goal.

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.

However, Real Madrid’s blunder could well be a blessing in disguise for Zizou’s men. The teams that have qualified for the last 16 are as follows:

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.

The draw will take place on Monday at 12CET.

 

 

 

 

Takeaways from Real Madrid’s win against Lisbon

Real Madrid kickedrmavspo off the new Champions League season with a late, late win at home to Sporting Lisbon, who must be feeling hard-done after producing a good first half and early second half performance, while the hosts’ performance was subpar at best. However, the Madridista-never-say-die attitude coupled with Zidane’s second half substitutes and Ronaldo’s brilliant free kick produced a much needed victory.

There were some things that were on display during the game which are worth highlighting. Here are a few:

The BBC’s fluidity is being disrupted by injuriesbbc

Not long ago the BBC was being touted as the best attacking trio but have since been displaced by MSN. Injuries have been a colossal problem for Real Madrid’s attack in the past and Morata’s signing as well as holding onto Asensio was a step in the right direction to provide some cover when either member of the trio goes down injured. Benzema’s absence was obvious last season and is to some extent still noticeable- Morata hasn’t quite settled in completely as the out-and-out striker.

The BBC is lacking harmony and it was on full display last night. Miscommunication led to missed passes and less opportunities created among the three. Bale’s pass rate was a meagre 71.4%; Benzema had no shots on goal. It was necessary to substitute both in the second half and it paid off handsomely. It’s understandable that the trio needs more time to rediscover their form and it may take some time to find that fluidity as neither Benzema, Bale nor Ronaldo had a pre-season. Regaining fluidity will happen only if they can stay injury-free long enough.

James should be given a fair chance

The situation with James is bothersome. There are some reports that his attitude in training is rotten and that’s the main reason Zidane doesn’t believe in him as much. However, he has been in splendid form for Colombia and last night’s cameo saw some of his abilities on display. In the fifteen minutes he played he created three chances and provided the assist for the winning goal- it was a brilliant, well-placed cross from the left to find the head of Morata. If he can produce that in a quarter of an hour, imagine what he could in an hour or more. And for that reason, Zidane should give him a fair chance at proving himself and regaining the confidence and form he had during his first season with the club. Hopefully, James is willing to work hard- if the rumours are true- and not rest on his laurels.

Vazquez should work on his finishing

Lucas Vazquez appears to be a fan favourite and while that is absolutely justified he could endear himself even more to the fans IF he improves his shooting. After coming on for Bale in the 66th minute he created two wonderful chances for himself with some clever dribbling but his shots were weak. One could surmise that both chances were anaemic because they came from his weaker left foot but he’s also had some feeble shots on goal with his right. For example, in the Champions League final against Atletico and the European Super Cup against Sevilla he had clear cut chances which he fluffed; hit with no direction. The video below is just one visual illustration of Vazquez’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. If you wish to not watch the highlights in its entirety you can fast forward to 14:30. In the clip he had time and space and should have done much better with his opportunity. Further proof of his ineptitude in front of goal was his four goals in 25 appearances last season. The upside is that he’s still fairly young and can still develop that side of his game. He also provides the team with lovely crosses, draws plenty fouls with his dribbling and contributes defensively.

Last night’s performance won’t fly against Dortmund

Here’s the thing: on any given day, as long as Real Madrid are on song they are unbeatable. Yesterday’s showing also told us something: they can also win while not at their best. However, there are some opponents that will punish their mistakes and if luck is against them and the attack isn’t gelling then they won’t be able to out-score the opposition. Dortmund is one such opponent and if their start to the league season in addition to their opening performance against Legia Warsaw are anything to go by Los Blancos will fail if they turn in such a display against them. They must improve upon yesterday’s performance.

For laughs: Another Vazquez howler in front of goal

 

Real Madrid closed the group stage in style

Real Madrid: Dudek (Adán 45+′), Arbeloa, Carvalho, Albiol, Marcelo (Garay 75′), Diarra, Lass, Granero, Pedro León, Ronaldo (Sarabia 72′) and Benzema

Auxerre: Sorin, Dudka, Coulibaly, Mignot, Grichting, Chafni, Pedretti (Sammaritano 61′), Oliech, Traore, Birsa (Langil 90′) and Contout (Quercia 73′)

Due to the one-match suspension handed to Mourinho by UEFA for instructing both Ramos and Alonso to be sent off in their last Champions League match against Ajax, Aitor Karanka had to deputize for the Portuguese boss.  Real Madrid were already guaranteed a spot in the round of 16 as well were confirmed group winners.  And, due to suspensions and injuries the Portuguese manager was prompted to include players such as: Pedro León, Granero, Diarra, Lass, Benzema and Dudek into his line-up.  This was Dudek’s first appearance in a competitive match under Mourinho.  Two youth teamers were included in the squad list, Morata and Sarabia, anxiously awaiting their debut in a competitive match for the first team.  Morata had made his debut with the first team during their pre-season tour of the US and also trained with the first team on many occasions.  He was also on the bench last weekend for the match against Valencia but didn’t get to come on.  For Sarabia this was his first inclusion into the first team squad list.

Real Madrid started the match brightly and the fans didn’t have to wait too long to see their team score their 300th goal in Champions League history.  Incidentally, the only team to have that many goals.  Just 12 minutes in and it was Benzema who found himself on the score sheet with a diving header.  Ronaldo had come running down the left, side-stepping Dudka and sent in a great cross for the French man to dive on to from point blank range.

Moments later, 21st minute, Pedro León with a good run down the right with some skilful moves, sent in a wondrous cross for Ronaldo, who came dashing into the box and should have scored but instead sent his header inches wide of the far post.

In the 26th minute the visitors had a great chance to square the game but Dudek at 37 years, 260 days old showed that he’s still got it, coming up with a terrific save to deny Mignot from point blank range, diving down low to his left to keep the header out.

In the 42nd minute Oliech came dashing down the right beating Marcelo and hit a vicious strike on goal that Dudek once again got down low to push around the post.

At the end of the first half Dudek had to be substituted for former Cantera captain, Adán, after the goalkeeper collided with Contout.  Coincidentally, this was Adán’s first competitive appearance for the whites.

Just 4 minutes into the 2nd half and Marcelo came running down the left, cutting into the centre to deliver a well weighted pass to Ronaldo on the right who took a touch to settle it and rifled the ball into the right top corner for Real’s second and his 21st goal in 22 appearances.

In the 71st minute Karim Benzema would score his 16th Champions League goal and Madrid’s 3rd on the night, after he got on to the end of a deep ball out of the back by Lass, which the French man took in his stride and placed a lovely shot to the far post which Sorin got fingers to but couldn’t keep it out.

Pablo Sarabia would make his much anticipated debut in a competitive match for Real Madrid coming on for Portuguese star, Ronaldo in the 72nd minute.

Oliech again would come flying down the right in the 78th minute, cut into the box and took a good strike on goal but debutant, Adán got down to kick save brilliantly to preserve the clean sheet.

Benzema had a great chance to score his hat-trick in the 85th minute after some determined play by Lass who slipped a lovely ball down the middle for the French man to get on to, who then beat two defenders but his subsequent shot went just wide of the near post.

However, Benzema would get his hat-trick in the 87th minute when he latched on to a dreadful pass by the Auxerre goalkeeper, settling the ball and chipping it from an acute angle into the net for the fourth on the night and his FIRST hat-trick in a Real Madrid shirt.

A wonderful display from a “make-shift” team closing out their group stage campaign in style winning 5 games and drawing 1, their best ever performance at the group stages.  Not to mention they scored their 303rd Champions League goal, a record that NO other club has achieved.

 

 

The look of Champions

Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Albiol, Ramos (sent off 91′), Marcelo, Lass (Mateos 82′), Xabi Alonso (sent off 86′), Cristiano Ronaldo, Pedro León (Di María 65′) and Benzema (Canales 82′)

Ajax: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Anita, Enoh, Emanuelson, De Jong (Lindgren 76′), Suarez, Sulejmani (Eriksen 86′) and El Hamdaoui (de Zeeuw 45′)

Match day 5 of the Champions League kicked off today.  Real Madrid had already clinched a berth into the 2nd round of the competition and as such Mourinho decided to rest a few key players, especially with El Clásico just a few days away, which allowed some of his squad players to earn some playing time.  Pedro León, Albiol, Arbeloa and Benzema all earned a starting spot in Amsterdan.

The whites only needed a point to secure top spot but Mourinho’s men only had eyes for all three points and as such came out pressuring the Dutch team, which they [Ajax] tried to resist.  The saying, “pressure burst pipes” is what would best describe what happened over the course of the match.  Real Madrid eventually got the breakthrough in the 36th minute through Benzema.  They [Real Madrid] were awarded a freekick deep in midfield which Xabi Alonso took and found Özil over the top, who back-heeled it into the path of the onrushing Benzema, who hit a lovely curling shot to find the top corner for the first of the night.  Ajax would eventually give away another freekick just outside the box in the 44th minute that Ronaldo stepped up to take.  However, the Portuguese’s shot hit off the wall and fell right into the path of Arbeloa, who tee’d up his shot and let it fly to record his first goal of the season  and Real Madrid’s second of the night (what a beauty it was!).  At the start of the 2nd half things were exactly the same as it was in the 1st and Real Madrid came out applying even more pressure, trying to secure another goal.  Ronaldo had the first opportunity to do so with a wonderful effort on goal just 2 minutes into the second half but his shot came off the bar.  However, Ronaldo would earn his goal on the night, when Di María intercepted a bad pass out the back, cut inside to his left foot and sent in a lovely dinked ball over the top for Ronaldo who took one touch to control and then hit a left-footed strike to find the bottom corner for Real Madrid’s third.  In the 75th minute, Özil almost scored the fourth from a freekick on the edge of the box but Stekelenburg got down quickly and palmed it away.  It kept getting worst for the home side and in the 80th minute Özil won a penalty which Ronaldo stepped up to power pass Stekelenburg for Madrid’s 4th on the night.

It was indeed a world class performance by the whites and the true mark of champions considering they were playing with a “make-shift” team after Mourinho rested some key players as well there were injuries to both Khedira and Higuaín.  The team controlled the entire game and didn’t allow Ajax any room to play or dwell on the ball, the passing was impeccable and opportunities were created in abundance by the whites.  The only blemish on the overall performance was the sending off of both Alonso and Ramos for time wasting in the 86th and 91st minute respectively.

As fans, we should not get too carried away this is only the beginning of a very long journey for the whites and we can only dream until it becomes reality.

Highlights from the match


Di Maria to the rescue as Real Madrid earn narrow win in France

Higuain celebrates with Di Maria

Real Madrid line-up: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, Khedira, Lass (Di Maria, 74), Ronaldo, Benzema (Ozil, 58) and Higuain (Mahmadou Diarra, 86).

Auxerre line-up: Soni, Hengbart, Coulibaly, Grichting, Dudka, N’Dinga, Pedretti, Contout (Jelen, 47), Chafni (Quercia, 88), Langil (Traore, 78) and Oliech.

In what was a very rare line-up for Real Madrid but not one uncommon to the coach at his previous teams, saw the visitors line up with 3 defensive midfielders, with Xabi playing just a little ahead of Lass and Khedira, as the “deep lying playmaker”, with one striker and two wingers.  For most of you who will say he used two strikers, he actually had Benzema playing as a winger, switching flanks with Ronaldo at times.

Auxerre started out radiant and created some guilt edged opportunities before Madrid really began to control the game and stroke the ball around.  On the 4th minute a long ball was played up field for Oliech to chase who had beat Pepe and Ramos for pace, Casillas ran out to challenge but his tackle only hit off the forward’s legs and allowed Oliech to give chase but the ball picked up pace and ran out over the goal line before Oliech could get to it.  Two minutes later and there was another close chance for Auxerre as Langil whipped in a lovely ball from the right that Oliech just over ran and Marcelo managed to clear at the far post.  Eight minutes in and Madrid’s first opportunity came through Ronaldo after he cut inside and took a shot from 20 yards that Sorin had to parry.  Two minutes later, in the 10th minute, another chance for the visitors as Diarra took a shot from 25 yards that just went wide of the upright.  Fifteenth minute and a corner from the right comes in, headed on by Khedira, finds Higuain who did well to drag the ball back and hit it under Sorin but Coulibaly was on the line to clear it.  The visitors stroked the ball around with ease as the home team were content to sit back and allow them the freedom.  Twenty-fifth minute and from a free kick on the left,  Pedretti sent in a wonderful cross that met the head of N’Dinga but he saw his effort go just wide of the post.  Thirty-five minutes in and Lass did well to beat Langlin and have a go from 18 yards but his effort went sky high.  Thirty-sixth minute and Xabi, who saw the run of Marcelo on the left found him with a lovely diagonal ball which Marcelo controlled with his chest brilliantly and drove a volley into the ground that Sorin managed to saved– should’ve have buried that opportunity but a great play by Xabi and a good effort from Marcelo nevertheless.  In the 52nd minute Khedira who was wide sent in a cross that Arbeloa got his head on but it went just over the bar.  In the 61st minute Jelen had a great opportunity to put his side up a goal but saw Casillas narrow his angle and he put his effort well wide of goal.  Four minutes later, Arbeloa finds Ronaldo on the edge of the box who took a powerful strike on goal but Sorin stood his ground and held on to the ball.  Ronaldo had another effort on the 68th minute from a freek kick 30 yards out that had some swerve on it but Sorin managed to punch it clear.  Real Madrid were really piling the pressure on and in the 74th minute Di Maria was introduce for Lass.  Di Maria’s presence was felt immediately and just two minutes after coming on he whipped a wondrous cross into the 6 yard box that Higuain just couldn’t get a boot to.  Pepe was almost left red-faced in the 78th minute after he attempted to clear a cross from Traore, but was happy to see his header ping off the upright and Ramos cleared comfortably.  However, three minutes after that near disaster, Di Maria scored what was the game’s only goal on the 81st minute after a lovely ball from the right was angled in for him (the cross might have been headed on by Higuain), which he took down on his chest brilliantly and volleyed with his left into the bottom right corner– a wonderful strike, certainly worthy of all three points!

Real Madrid are now top of their group after their narrow win and also, Milan were held to a draw by Ajax in Amsterdan.

Di Maria’s Goal