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.

The Euro’s most surprising teams

At every major tournament there are teams we all think will achieve nothing or lack the ability to cause problems and shall surely be the beating stick, but then they surprise us; they defeat a household name; they push them to or beyond their limit. This year’s Euro is not any different and we have a few which have all stood out, some more than others. Even if they don’t make it to the next round, their performances were so good that despite their misfortune (if applicable) they’ve been mentioned here.

Albania

albania euroMany of us before the tournament had group A as probably the one group, in which the favourites would plough their more inferior opponents. However, this was not the case and Albania emerged as a true menace against both France and Switzerland. The Swiss managed a meagre 1-0 win. But such was the performance of the Albanians that by the second half we were all hoping they would pull a goal back, thus earning a draw. But it wasn’t to be and had it not been for some spectacular saves from Yann Sommer coupled with the Albanians’ obvious tournament inexperience and their inept finishing, it would have been. They created chances, defended relentlessly but an early mistake from Berisha cost them and they were never able to comeback.

France would be their next victim but again, inefficiency would be their downfall, in addition to eventual weariness and a defensive blunder in the 88th minute, which allowed Griezmann to score. Their inexperience showed minutes later anew: while they were committing men forward to get themselves an equaliser they lost the ball and was hit on the counter, thereby giving France a 2-0 win- a deceiving result for someone who merely checked the game’s score.

The Albanians, however, never threw in the towel and were determined to win their first point at a major tournament- a feat they achieved by upsetting Romania 1-0 in the final group game.

Despite making their debut, the Albanians toiled tirelessly and were tenacious in their efforts. They finished third in their group and may or may not make it to the next round. But whatever happens, they performed admirably and were intrepid.

Wales

Bale and company, also making their debut at the Euro, weren’t expected to have any success let alone be group winners nor did anyone think Bale would have three times as many goals as Ronaldo after three games but has so far turned in some scintillating performances. The likes of Bale, Allen and Ramsey have all been key.

They opened with a win against Slovakia, the goals coming through Bale from a superb 30-baleyard-free-kick and the “clubless” Robson-Kanu. They initially led the game but allowed Slovakia back in through loss of concentration. However, what was impressive in that game was their sheer will and energy to collect all three points and they laboured until the 81st minute, when their breakthrough came.

The game against England was expected to be a blow out for their English neighbours but once again their star man, Bale delivered a wonderful free kick goal but it wouldn’t last long as they later give up a cheap equaliser to Vardy and then succumbed to a late winner through Sturridge.

The loss to England was a bitter one but it didn’t deter them in their final game against the absolutely awful Russia- a team which didn’t deserve to be in the tournament.

Against Russia, the Welsh gave their best performance. They defeated them 3-0, playing some attractive attacking football, while keeping the Russians at bay. Once again, the will of the Welsh came into play and their desire to win their group was on display. They created numerous chances and had this game finished 4- or 5-0 it would have been well and truly deserved.

The Welsh is the first team in twenty years to advance to the next round on their tournament debut and another outstanding performance in the round of 16 could see them progress even further.

Bale has had a standout tournament and has considerably outshone his Real Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo. He has three goals, two of which came from beautiful free kicks, and an assist, while Ronaldo has failed to score a single goal or hit a free kick on target.

Iceland

iceland porAnother Euro debutant, who’ve also been a wonder. They frustrated Portugal in the group game opener, defended resolutely and earned themselves a draw in the end- their first point at a major competition. They could have earned the full three points against the Portuguese had it not been for feeble finishing, which again proved to be a problem for them against Hungary. They had their opportunities but just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.

Nevertheless, they have performed valiantly and earned themselves two points on their debut and are sitting second in their group ahead of Portugal. If all goes well in their final group game against the insipid Austria- and a win is possible- they will most certainly qualify for the next round.

Ten percent of the Icelandic population travelled to France to watch their team’s debut and they must be proud of their players because they have been fearless.

English Heartbreak and Welsh joy

shcärSaturday saw the second day of the European Championship kicked off by Albania and Switzerland with the Swiss taking the win through Fabian Schär’s header after a mistake from Albania’s goalkeeper, Berisha. The Albanians, despite being a man down for much of the game- their captain Cana was sent off in the 37th minute- created some chances but were unable to convert them not for a lack of trying but as a result of some spectacular goaltending by Yann Sommer.

The second match of the day saw the Welsh defeat Slovakia 2-1. Real Madrid’s $100 Million man got the game going with a delightful free kick from 30 yards out. Shortly before the half, Slovakia had a huge chance to equalise through Skrtel bbale.jpegut it wasn’t to be and Wales went in at the half up a goal. The Slovakians would eventually equalise in the 61st minute through Duda mere minutes after coming on. Wales, however, were not to be denied, creating a myriad of chances before the substitute Robson-Kanu eventually buried the winning goal in the 81st minute. The Welsh held on for a historic victory, securing their first ever win in a major tournament.

What happened in the “Crunch Match” of the evening?

The lead up to the England-Russia match was of course tainted with both fans clashing in the streets of Marseille. That, however, had no effect on the game. England started the game wonderfully, dominating the first half but were unable to break the deadlock. Russia turned in a rather apathetic performance and should have at least been a goal down at the half but dominance counts for nothing if you can’t finish your chances.

At the start of the second the Russians were more active while the English not as dominant as tdierhey were in the first. It took us until the 73rd minute to see the first goal of the game after Alli was fouled just outside the box. Dier stepped up and smashed a dazzling free kick into the corner of the net, giving Akinfeev no chance to save. The English failed to secure their lead and paid for their lack of incisiveness in the second minute of stoppage time when Berezutski’s towering header levelled the score, thereby breaking the hearts of English fans everywhere.

The English can take pride in somethings. The partnership between Walker and Lallana on the right was delightful and caused the Russians all sorts of trouble on the night. Hodgson may need to rethink Sterling as a starter, as he looked out of ideas and downright lax. Danny Rose on the other hand had a stand out game with the exception of his part in that late goal by Russia. He was lively down the left, creating chances with some nice crosses into the box. Dier’s amazing free kick won them a point and his partnership in the middle with Alli looked tremendous and almost impenetrable.

Fans should however, be disappointed with Hodgson for not bringing Vardy on at some point in the match. He could have provided some much needed pace in attack later in the game as the Russians began to tire. It was also disheartening to see Kane take the corners all night- the majority terrible- as the team would have been better served with him in the box attacking those corners. Rooney showed some flashes of brilliance and probably shouldn’t have been replaced in the 78th minute by Wilshere. The Arsenal man’s introduction changed nothing and the decision to bring him along after only coming back from a long injury spell in April is still baffling.

The “golden generation” carried on the old tradition of not winning their opening game of the European tournament but this performance wasn’t all bad and they can learn from this. However, conceding a goal of the nature they did so late on shows that defensively the English may not be strong enough and attacking wise they made some poor choices and were lacking bite, which could cost them in this tournament.

It should be an interesting game against group leaders Wales on June 16th. If the Welsh can put in an even better performance than against Slovakia, there’s no doubt they’ll defeat the English and qualify for the next round of the tournament. The English will have to play a perfect game to bounce back and earn their first three points of the tournament.