Do you see the 11 Real Madrid players above, the ones that are wearing purple? They are the ones who destroyed Juventus in the Champions League final on June 3. Now, look at those below, in white. They are the same, only they’re not the same. Beyond Keylor’s hair and Casemiro and Isco swapping positions in the photo, there are more changes, which explains why some wrote a page of glory and others are blurring it for the next chapter.
Madridistas can narrate, with their eyes closed, that magnificent second half in which Zinedine Zidane’s side set about torturing Juventus and making them suffer with their brilliant football. Those second 45 minutes, the ones which sealed the Duodecima, immediately brought about happy memories, while the draw in Bilbao will be forgotten quickly. Or not. Of course, what remains in the memory will be disappointment and how slow and lethargic Real’s game was, completely different from the cavalier style they displayed in Wales.
Of course, their game and the results bring bad feeling. This Madrid now have Barcelona looming, and they’re worried. Their morale was on cloud nine and they looked at the rest of the year as a chance to make history after their victory against the Bianconeri. Not anymore.
Madrid scored four goals against the Turin outfit in the Champions League final. This side have returned from two successive away games without finding the net once. They drew a blank at both the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano and the Estadio San Mames – and their overall record isn’t too good either. They have 25 goals in 14 LaLiga games – less than Celta, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Barcelona – and their top scorers are Isco and Marco Asensio. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are going through a barren spell and Gareth Bale has been through a torrid time with injury.
What if Real are struggling to pick the lock in games? Last season, Zidane turned his eyes towards his bench and had Alvaro Morata, Asensio, James Rodriguez and Danilo sitting there but this year, it isn’t the same. In Bilbao, he perhaps didn’t make the most of his changes. Mateo Kovacic and Borja Mayoral entered late but Dani Ceballos, Theo and Lucas didn’t receive a single minute. The squad’s backup players aren’t as strong as last season’s and that was proven against Fuenlabrada. Zizou hasn’t acknowledged it publicly but he is aware of this whenever he has to resort to his reserves.
Modric is not Modric. Kroos is not Kroos. Marcelo is a shadow of who he once was and individuals not being at their best are dragging the team through the mud. They are slow, lacking ideas and the Madrid midfield isn’t producing much in the way of creative spark. Nor do they find it when they resort to longer balls or crosses, which are often sterile and easy to deal with. Not one of the 11 starters is at the same high level they showed in the final stretch of last season.
Is it a problem of form? Zidane insisted in pre-season that preparation was aimed at being in top condition when the two Super Cups were played in August. Madrid won both and did so with some of the most brilliant football of recent years. The double win over Barcelona ensured confidence was high entering the season but they’ve since sunk into a valley which they’ve been unable to rise out from. When has Pintus scheduled the next upturn in form for?
The players roam the field as if the others who are wearing the same jersey are not their teammates. There is a clear disconnect in the centre of the park and in the final third, something they have been accused of on more than one occasion and which has been pointed out. The rest of the team have been unable to assist much in this regard too.
A month before the January transfer window opens, Real Madrid don’t know who their goalkeeper will be for the second phase of LaLiga action. It is true that Keylor Navas has always been questioned and the signing of a ‘big’ goalkeeper has always hovered over him. But his performances towards the end of last season lifted confidence in him. He kept a clean sheet at San Mames against the man who has been mooted to take his place.
“I’m not worried,” were the words of Zidane after the game. It is a different message to the one which he has delivered to his players in the dressing room, where he has left them in no doubt about what he wants from them in shaking things up. But the fan can only hear what Zizou tells the press and not what happens behind closed doors. The feeling of a supporters is frustration when they hear the coach discuss being ‘happy’ with such a performance.
Fortune isn’t on their side either. The shot which Casemiro hit and perhaps luckily found a way to goal via Sami Khedira past Gianluigi Buffon in the Champions League final is no longer hitting the net. Now, it is hitting the post or volleys are whistling inches past the upright. Luck has abandoned Real Madrid.
What if it is a matter of hunger? Is it hard to lift yourself in the same way after becoming the first team to win two successive Champions League titles in the modern era. They are coming off a season in which they won almost everything and finally got their hands on LaLiga after years of frustration. Have the European champions lost their motivation?