Real Madrid are languishing behind Barcelona in the LaLiga title race. As the first round of LaLiga fixtures draws to a close, Zinedine Zidane does not appear to have the solution to his side’s woes. A home defeat against Villarreal exacerbated the crisis, with a gap now opening up between Madrid and the ‘top three’ of Barça, Atlético Madrid, and Valencia.
These are the nine reasons for Real Madrid’s malaise:
1. Points dropped in the Bernabéu. If only home matches were counted in the league table, Real Madrid would be in sixth position, level with Eibar. Madrid have won five matches at home, drawn two (against Valencia and Levante), and lost three (against Betis, Barcelona, and Villarreal). It is the first time since May 2009 – when Juande Ramos was in the dugout – that Madrid have lost two consecutive league matches on home turf (Barcelona and Villarreal).
2 The strikers’ drought. Never before in the history of LaLiga has the Real Madrid top scorer had just four goals to his name after 18 matches. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco, and Marco Asensio have all scored four, and there are no Madrid players among the top 25 scorers in LaLiga. The No.9 – Karim Benzema – has only scored twice in the league, while Ronaldo has eight goals fewer than at the same point last season.
3. Gareth Bale’s injuries. Real Madrid had to face the first half of the season without a player who normally forms an integral part of the team. The Wales international has missed nine LaLiga matches. And Bale has been substituted in five of the eight Liga matches he has started. He featured in the Clásico, but only from the bench.
4. Marcelo’s slump. The left-back looks physically drained and his performances are suffering. The arrival of Theo Hernández has not improved Marcelo, who continues to be the guaranteed first-choice in his position. Marcelo was caught out by Villarreal’s counter attack at the Bernabéu on Saturday and he contributed little to Madrid’s offensive play. Of the 16 crosses that he swung in to the box, only three found a fellow white-shirted player. Most of them thumped in to the body of Mario Gaspar - the Villarreal right-back.
5. Zidane does not react. The coach continues to place his faith in a select group of players. Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, and Benzema have all struggled for form yet all retained their positions in the team. Zidane has rejected the possibility of a foray in to the January transfer market after saying “no” to the incorporation of a new striker in the summer. Now he is paying the price. Zidane also struggles to affect matches with substitutions. He rarely makes a change before the 70-minute mark.
6. Poor summer signings. Theo Hernández (713 minutes), Jesús Vallejo (449), Marcos Llorente (528), Dani Ceballos (531), and Borja Mayoral (527) are the players in the squad who have played the least. All came in to the squad in the summer. Zidane has only given them opportunities in the Copa del Rey and they are not at the same level as Pepe, James Rodríguez, or Álvaro Morata, who were fringe players last season.
7. Late goals have dried up. In 2016-17 Real Madrid specialised in scoring at the death. We came to expect late goals, particularly from the head of Sergio Ramos. This season Madrid have been the victims of such sucker-punches. Villarreal scored their winner in the 88th minute, while Madrid have not scored a single league goal after the 86th minute.
8. El Clásico. Barcelona romped to a 0-3 victory in the Bernabéu, and that delivered a significant blow to Madrid’s morale. Zidane’s decision to field Kovacic in a defensive role – rather than playing Isco behind the strikers – did not go down well with Madridistas, particularly because Los Blancos desperately needed three points. It was an acknowledgment of inferiority.
9. Focus on the super cups. Real Madrid beat Manchester United to win the European Super Cup and Barcelona – in style – to win the Spanish Super Cup. It gave the impression that all the work in pre-season was focussed towards those two matches, and now the team appear lethargic after a taxing summer.