Things at the Santiago Bernabeu are not going to plan – and there does not seem to be a quick fix in sight to solve the issues.
Real Madrid’s start to the season has been less than ideal and Julen Lopetegui is holding onto his job by a thread – but what needs sorting out for the Champions League holders to turn their fortunes around?
After losing to Levante at the weekend, Real sit seventh in La Liga having won only four of their opening nine league matches. Here, we take a look a look at the issues facing Lopetegui…
- Lopetegui set to be sacked
The problems at the back for Real are there for all to see; they are leaking goals and, at the same time, they have been without their attacking full-backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo for part of the campaign, meaning Lopetegui has not been able to utilise his strongest back four on a regular basis.
Only Sergio Ramos has been a mainstay at the back, even the goalkeeper has changed, with summer signing Thibaut Courtois coming in after two games of the season to replace Keylor Navas, adding uncertainty to a team trying to adapt to their new head coach.
Raphael Varane has returned from winning the World Cup performing below his usual standards and his failure to get his confidence back has resulted in a number of mistakes, culminating in the Levante opener when he was unable to deal with a straight ball over the top, not to mention his handball to give away the penalty for the second.
Carvajal’s injury has caused the most problems with Lopetegui not fully trusting new boy Alvaro Odriozola to take his position and therefore selecting Nacho at right-back, with the central defender failing to offer the same dynamism to a team who rely on the attacking nature of their full-backs.
In the defeat to Levante it was Odriozola who was sacrificed at half-time in favour of Gareth Bale, a sign of how much faith Lopetegui has in the youngster.
The importance of Marcelo was shown against Levante as it was the Brazilian who got Real back into the game with his goal, the team’s first goal in 481 minutes of play.
When Marcelo has been absent Lopetegui has moved Nacho over to the left, having let Theo Hernandez depart for Real Sociedad on loan for the season, leaving him no like-for-like replacement.
Any new manager would need to create a cohesive defensive unit where replacements can slot in easily. Lopetegui has tried to implement a system which involves the defence playing much higher up and they are finding it hard to execute such a plan when they are chopping and changing players each week.
It might, therefore, be a better idea to enjoy solidity in defence rather than imposing a philosophy change on permanently rotating line-up.
It is even more important to have a defence which is hard to break down when a team’s attacking players are struggling to score at the other end.
Real Madrid have notched just once in their last five games and a mere 13 times across nine league matches, despite averaging over 18 shots per game, a sign of their floundering in the final third.
Against Levante they hit 34 shots but only found the back of the next once.
Understandably the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo has been a huge problem to solve. The return of Mariano from Lyon was the only attacking arrival in a quiet summer, as they failed to lure Eden Hazard to the Bernabeu.
What they have been left with is Karim Benzema whose four goals in all competitions so far this season came in just two matches and he hasn’t scored since September 1.
Gareth Bale is another to have started the season well with two goals in the opening two league games but he has lost form and struggled for fitness due muscular issues, which meant he was only fit for the bench against Levante and he was unable to turn things around when he did enter the fray.
There was a lot of pressure for Marco Asensio to fulfil his potential this campaign in the absence of Ronaldo but he has so far underwhelmed.
In nine appearances Asensio has only produced a single goal and assist, way below what would be expected from a Real forward.
There does not seem to be an understanding between the forwards selected each week, implying their over-reliance on Ronaldo in recent years when they needed a spark.
Any potential Lopetegui replacement would need to find a way to get the most out of the attacking options available to him.
Ronaldo scored 26 goals in 27 league appearances – and 44 in all competitions – last season, and the fear of having to find a way to replace those goals could be affecting the mindsets of the Real forwards.
Bale was the only other player in the team to reach double figures domestically in 2017-18, hitting 16 in the league, while fellow forward Benzema notched a paltry five goals in La Liga.
Considering that Ronaldo is the only real change to the forward line and the number of chances still being created, it is fair say his finishing is the key missing factor in the team this time around.
None of the players at the head coach’s disposal are of Ronaldo’s level but between them they should be able to be more threatening than what they have offered so far and it mainly seems to be a confidence issue as proved by inability to be clinical in front of goal.
Getting the supporters on side will be important for a new head coach. The fans were less than happy at the summer incomings and Ronaldo’s exit.
The arrivals of Courtois, Odriozola and Mariano have not raised the quality of the squad and are a long way from the previous Galatico level which became the norm under Florentino Perez.
The club president’s popularity is waning as he struggles to attract the game’s biggest names to the Spanish capital, not just on the pitch but off it, too, as Lopetequi was a long way from being his first choice.
The head coach has plenty of support in the stands, with most of their ire direct at Perez as they believe his decisions have been the ones to put the club in trouble.
In the dressing room Lopetegui has the backing of the players, with captain Ramos saying after the loss to Levante that he and the players are behind the head coach.
Last season they finished 17 points worse off than rivals Barcelona at the end of the league campaign and little so far this campaign has implied they are closing the gap.
Finishing so far behind the Catalans hurt and being a place below Atletico Madrid only added to the woe. Third is a failure for Real Madrid and their current position of seventh will be seen as an embarrassment even if they are only four points off the top after nine games.
The Bernabeu has been a quiet place in recent months as the goals have dried up, while errors have increased, resulting in a growing frustration in the stands and white flags being waved.
There is one way of getting the fans back on side: win the Clasico at the weekend.
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