The first team to win the UEFA Champions League twice in consecutive years, everyone started to believe that Real Madrid would run through their opponents this season especially after their triumph in the UEFA Super Cup and subsequent humiliation of Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.
But, three months down the road and after 12 league games and four Champions League ties, the team find themselves third in the league table with 24 points, 10 fewer than leaders Barcelona. The team that hardly lost under their manager Zinedine Zidane in the last season and a half, have lost to the likes of Real Betis and Girona, yes, Girona, who were promoted to the top-tier only this season.
In Europe, the two-time defending champions are second in their group, courtesy their loss to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month. It is clearly evident that something is wrong with the Los Blancos.
Let us take a look at five things that have gone wrong for Zidane and co. this season.
5. Players lacking motivation
The current lot of players have tasted enormous success in the last two seasons, winning the La Liga, Spanish Super Cup, two Champions League titles in two years, two European Super Cups and possibly two consecutive Club World Cups.
In the above-mentioned duration, the core players remained the same and achieved everything that was possible for a Real Madrid player to achieve. With nothing else to achieve (Copa del Rey being the exception), the players are lacking motivation and that is clearly evident in the way they are playing.
Only a few players have turned up at the start of the season while the players who were vital to the team’s success in the last 24 months, the likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo have flattered to deceive thus far. Zidane will hope that the players will start contributing sooner rather than later so that Madrid can get back to winning ways soon.
4. Below-par transfer window
How often have you seen Real Madrid stay silent during a transfer window? Florentino Perez and co. completed the signings of Dani Ceballos and Theo Hernandez at the start of the window and decided to bring back some of their youngsters who had been out on loan.
On the other hand, they let Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez laeve. Morata scored 15 league goals last season, the second most by any player and the most if you don’t consider goals scored from set-pieces. James, meanwhile, was instrumental in Madrid’s offence and registered six assists in the league.
In spite of selling two of their main players, Zidane didn’t bring in any reinforcements and their absence is clearly being felt this season. With the team’s first-choice striker Karim Benzema struggling to even get shots on target, the team are missing someone who can score goals consistently. Also, with the midfielders going through a rough patch, the team are lacking creativity.
Selling them might be a good decision because both the players wanted to leave but not replacing them is something that Madrid are regretting at the moment.
3. Style of play
Real Madrid are a club known for scoring a lot of goals and they often hit four to five past the lower-ranked opponents easily. But, this season, the story is different as the team have scored just 22 goals in 12 league matches with three goals being the most goals scored in a game.
The free role afforded to Isco hasn’t worked as the midfielder has slowed down counter-attacks on several occasions. Apart from that, the Spaniard’s decision making has been poor, and he has consistently failed to get rid of the ball at the right time.
Moreover, players are selfish when they get the ball. This can easily be seen from the fact that a few of them, namely Isco, Marco Asensio etc. have been taking on defenders instead of passing into open space, or in some cases, even going for shots with players in acres of space in front of the goal waiting for a tap-in.
Also, the team are heavily reliant on crossing which is evident from the fact that they have 23 crosses per game, and just two through balls per game. They also only managed to score their first headed goal of the season against Las Palmas, the game before the derby.
2. Misfiring Cristiano Ronaldo
When Barcelona signed Paulinho, the Madrid fans around the world made fun of the Catalans for bringing in the Brazilian.
However, 12 matches into the season and the midfielder has scored four goals while Real Madrid’s attacking trio, BBC, have scored a combined total of four, with Gareth Bale, who missed a majority of the season due to various injuries, being the top scorer with two goals and both Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema accounting for one each.
With someone like Ronaldo in the side, a lot is expected from the team and while the talisman is in good goal-scoring form in the Champions League, the same cannot be said of his form in the league as he has managed just one goal in eight matches.
It is not that he is going through a rough phase as a player but he is struggling to finish the chances that are coming his way. With his goal drought expected to come to an end somewhere in the future, the Madridistas will hope that the Portuguese can find his Midas touch soon.
1. Luck factor
One of the biggest reasons for the success of Zidane’s Real Madrid in the last two seasons was the luck that came their way. Last season alone, the team got 11 points thanks to late winners and equalizers. This season, the team are struggling to score goals, let alone scoring in the dying stages of matches.
Adding to that, Madrid have been robbed off as many as nine points through penalties. As many as 10 penalties, including three in the recent Madrid derby, should have been awarded to Sergio Ramos’ team.
Players getting injured at crucial junctures is not helping the team’s cause either. Gareth Bale is spending more time in the hospital than on the field, Dani Carvajal’s career almost came to a halt when he suffered heart issues but thankfully for Zidane, the right-back has come back with a bang.
Mateo Kovacic is almost match-fit but there is no information regarding the extent of Keylor Navas’s injury. Constant injuries to the likes of Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Marcelo, Theo Hernandez etc. have hampered the team’s progress this season.