Bale to pull Real Madrid out of their 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?

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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