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Real Madrid: Five things Zidane must put right before PSG tie

REAL MADRID

Real Madrid: Five things Zidane must put right before PSG tie

Real Madrid: Five things Zidane must put right before PSG tie

DAVID GONZALEZ

With their Champions League last-16 tie fast approaching, Real's draw at Levante saw them succumb to issues that have dogged them all season.

Poor tracking back to break up counter-attacks

With both of the hosts' goals scored on the break, Saturday's 2-2 LaLiga draw at Levante once again exposed Real Madrid's substandard tracking back when their opponents launch a counter-attack. It has been a constant thorn in Real's side throughout the season, and at the Ciutat de Valencia, it was the same old story; indeed, with the 'bbC' of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo all on the field, the issue was all the more evident: the trio's unwillingness to help out in defensive duties splits the team into two. Speaking post-match, head coach Zinedine Zidane's focus was on Levante's second equaliser - "They shouldn't have been able to score that goal," said the Frenchman - but that was just one of at least five moments when Los Granotas broke with men over as a result of Real Madrid simply being too slow to get players back behind the ball.

No pressure on the ball when they lose it

Real Madrid began the Levante clash in dominant mood, playing with assurance and resolve. But after Sergio Ramos had given them the lead, they lost concentration and began to allow looseness to creep into their game. The likes of Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Dani Carvajal and Casemiro were guilty of giving the ball away on several occasions, and whenever possession was lost, immediate pressure to win it back was conspicuous by its absence. It's something that is badly lacking in this Real side (while, for example, it is a constant in Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona team). When there is a turnover of the ball, Los Merengues don't seem to get themselves into position. Marcelo's tendency to push forward and forget about what's behind him often makes him a chief offender in this respect. If his team is to stop the Paris Saint-Germain attack, Zidane must put this right.

Lack of cutting edge going forward

Last season, such defensive carelessness would frequently be mitigated at the other end by a frightening effectiveness in front of goal. This term, however, Real Madrid's principal weapon appears to be jammed. Against Levante, that was once more there to see. Los Blancos finished the LaLiga encounter with 23 attempts on goal, of which just nine were on target (with two finding the back of the net). And if we focus in on the 'bbC', it makes grimmer reading: Cristiano had seven shots and Benzema took two, while Bale left the pitch without a single attempt to his name. And, of the three, none scored. With the first leg against PSG 10 days away, the trio's reduced goalscoring threat (particularly that of Benzema, who has mustered just two LaLiga goals this season) is a major concern for all Madridistas.

Getting punished for late-game slumps

With the introduction of Isco and a return to a 4-4-2 formation, Real appeared to restore order and regain control on Saturday, putting together a good spell of play, and chances, until their second goal arrived courtesy of the substitute. However, the three points then slipped through Real's fingers in the final minutes. With his side 2-1 up, Zidane brought off Cristiano for Marco Asensio, Levante took renewed heart and the match moved into a frenzied spell in which an under-the-cosh Real ended up conceding the equaliser. And it's by no means the first time this kind of thing has happened to Los Merengues in 2017/18. They've lost to Real Betis thanks to a stoppage-time Antonio Sanabria header, been held by Fuenlabrada when Álvaro Portilla's 89th-minute strike made it 2-2, dropped two points at Celta Vigo after letting in an 82nd-minute Maxi Gómez leveller, allowed Numancia to net an 82nd-minute goal to come away from the Bernabéu with a 2-2 draw, been stunned at home by Pablo Fornals' late winner for Villarreal...

A squad that is effectively only 15-strong

If there was one thing that characterised Real Madrid last season, it was the strength in depth of a squad whose charges stepped up to the plate when called on. Zidane showed an ability to keep all his men involved and bang at it. This year, though, his so-called 'plan B' just isn't what it was. In particular, the summer departures of Álvaro Morata, James Rodríguez and Pepe have weakened his second string, and has seen him grow reluctant to turn to the options he has in reserve. That has brought about a vicious circle in which the Frenchman's lack of faith in his substitutes has caused them to become disillusioned (they know that, whatever they do, they won't be in the team on the big occasions), which has had a negative effect on their performances; and, in turn, this has led the coach to look to them less and less, because when they have had their chance they haven't knocked on the door. Against this backdrop, Zidane places all his faith in his regulars, supplementing them with only Asensio, Lucas Vázquez and Mateo Kovacic (and Isco, now that the return of the 'bbC' has relegated him to the bench). This weakening of the squad in terms of both quality and morale could well play against them in their tie with PSG.

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