Zinedine Zidane’s suit has been blemished by various stains in recent days. And the last two stains are the toughest. Madrid fell to defeat at Wembley because, once again, they were stumped by a three-man defence. The same thing happened at the Bernabéu against Tottenham, then against Girona, and again on Wednesday evening. Tottenham knew how to deal with their opponents, while the Madrid players were overwhelmed in the centre of the park. They failed in their attempts to find team-mates and knit play together. Zidane tried to rectify things in the second half (as he did after falling behind against Girona) by matching Mauricio Pochettino’s system, but it did not come together.
Real Madrid starting XI stagnate
There is an additional point to be made: not everybody reacts the same to tactical confusion. Madrid have players who are good enough, fast enough, and strong enough to compensate for certain things, but we have not seen that in these matches against Girona and Tottenham. There is a sense that the starting XI is stiffening up, with the honourable exception of Isco, who ran his socks off at Wembley and as in Girona, was the best player. There are too many who are assured of their starting berth, and too many twiddling their thumbs on the bench. Marco Asensio in particular, but also others. Theo Hernández, Dani Ceballos, and Lucas Vázquez, for example.
Tottenham showed more passion
Committing fouls is not a praiseworthy act, but it does serve as a barometer of intensity. Madrid only committed six fouls, and four of those came in the closing stages when frustration levels simmered. Even taking those in to account, Madrid committed less than half the amount of fouls that Tottenham did (14). The English side played with better tactical positioning. But beyond that, they played with more passion. All of this led to a defeat to which Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal applied a layer of make-up. Madrid’s reaction came late, and it quickly evaporated in to a scrap between Mousa Dembélé and Sergio Ramos by the touchline. They will qualify with ease in second place, but Real Madrid are already elongating the impression that this is not what it once was.