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REAL MADRID

The reasons why Zidane's Real Madrid are in a mess

Six wins from 11 games and clear signs of weakness. Madrid will make the most of the international break to find out what is going wrong.

Real Madrid have managed to win just six of the 11 games they have played so far this season. They have drawn two and lost three of the other five. The weekend defeat at Mestalla was specially painful, with three penalties awarded and debatable refereeing decisions. Apart from that, there is genuine concern at the club about how the team's form has plummeted. During the international break, time will be set aside to look at the situation, identify the the problems and try to put things right. When club competition returns, Real Madrid have four tough away games - against Villarreal, Inter Milan, Shakhtar and Sevilla… Here are just a few of the reasons why the team has been struggling to get results.

Zidane's tactics and line-ups

Some of Zidane's team rotations have been questioned by those in power at the club, although it is something he has always done and occasionally to great success. But it is difficult to understand why he fielded Isco against Valencia as a replacement for the injured Casemiro and left Kroos on the bench. Equally as baffling was his decision to play Marcelo when Mendy had been called up by France and has ample time to recover. It's not the first time that Zidane's rotation decisions have been disastrous this season - Marcelo and Isco were also in the starting XI against Cádiz and he had to take the midfielder off at half-time.

Marcelo and Isco struggling

Two veteran players have looked particularly off the pace - Marcelo and Isco. The left-back has come in for some fierce criticism and the figures paint a grim picture. Madrid have played 57 league games since Zidane returned to the bench and have lost nine - Marcelo was in the line-up in all of those defeats. Then there is Isco, who refused to leave Madrid over the summer while the club were keen to bring in some much-needed cash from his sale (he's out of contract in 2022). He has vanished from Luis Enrique's national team lists. With Madrid, he summed up his situation with Zidane himself at Camp Nou (“If he has to take me off, it's in the 50th or 60th minute of the game. Sometimes at half time. If he has to bring me on, it’s in the 80th minute). Since then, the coach has given him a chance to win his place back but against Valencia he recovered just one ball. Modric, who is 35, won back nine... 

Asensio, Militao, Vinicius and Jovic not delivering

Asensio's case is the most striking of the four. It seems as though the winger has remembered some of the things he said in an interview back in November 2018 which came as a surprise to many madridistas: "I don't think it's for me to carry the team - there are players who are much more experienced, have more years playing under their belts and more status than I have and they're the one who have to lead the team,” he said while the team was bogged down in a run of bad results. The situation is very different. It's Asensio's fifth season at Madrid, he is 24 and the club's choice to form a three-pronged attack alongside Benzema and Hazard… Zidane has given him five consecutive starts - unconditionally, and he has yet to respond. He's not the only one of the younger players who are not delivering the goods. Militão, who cost 50 million euros, has looked vulnerable when he hasn't been playing alongside Sergio Ramos - he does not look at all like an alternative for a starting place. Nor does Vinicius (45 million), who has been erratic and indecisive when close to goal. Nor Rodrygo (40 million), in spite of his strike against Inter which rescued Madrid, he hasn't looked as though his game is improving since his time with the reserves. As for Jovic (60 million), from scoring 27 goals with Eintracht Frankfurt, he has netted just two for Madrid in his first season.

Madrid's defence conceding more goals than usual

Goals scored and conceded by Real Madrid in the final 11 games of last season: 19 for and 7 against. Goals scored and conceded by Real Madrid in the first 11 games of this season: 21 for and 16 against. The team is scoring more or less the same amount of goals but letting in more than double - as Mister Chip noted. Madrid have conceded at least one goal in all of their last seven games. Last season, the team won the league after keeping clean sheets in six of the final 11  matches after confinement. Varane, since his mistake against City, is having a nightmare - he has scored two own goals in his last five games for Real Madrid in all competitions, as many as in his previous 324 matches for the club.

No replacement for Casemiro; onus on Benzema to score

Real Madrid have two fundament weaknesses in the current squad. There is no natural replacement for Casemiro. Meanwhile, there are two alternatives for the centre-forward position (Mariano and Jovic), but Zidane has no faith in either of them. As for Casemiro, the stats couldn't be much clearer - without him, the team loses. Before the 4-1 defeat to Valencia, Zidane had left Casemiro on the bench twice and on both occasions he had to bring him on. The first time was in the opening game of the season against Real Sociedad. With the score locked at 0-0, the Brazilian came on for the last 20 minutes. The second, was against Cádiz with the team trailing.  Zizou decided to uses Isco in his place and the result was the same as against Valencia: at half-time, he had to bring Casemiro on for Isco. But it was to late. Eduardo Camavinga, a possible replacement for Casemiro, was keen to join last summer but Madrid couldn't sign him.

As for the strikers, after playing Jovic when the market was open, Zidane has now demoted him to the subs' bench. He brought him on for the last few minutes against Valencia when the team was trailing by three goals - too late for him or Mariano to make a difference. Madrid could suffer if Benzema if unavailable.

Erratic transfer policy

The club is ruing the bad luck they have had after investing big money in the most recent arrivals. Madrid made a huge effort a couple of summers ago, spending 298 million euros on Hazard (100), Jovic (60), Militão (50), Mendy (48) and Rodrygo (40). Of all of them, the only one who is working out so far is Mendy, and he has hardly been outstanding. It could be said that, apart from the bad luck which Hazard has had with injuries, the club have got some of their recent transfer dealing wrong and now there is no margin for error.

No new faces for the first time since 1981

The last time Real Madrid didn't make any summer signings at all was in 1981. That was the year when Madrid reached the European Cup final against Liverpool. The panorama is exactly the same as it was last year - those who are regular starters don't feel under threat of losing their place in the side and the substitute know that their situation isn't going to change. Only the board know why there were no new arrivals this summer - one possibility is that the club is saving to fund the operation to bring in Kylian Mbappé next year; another is that Madrid are financially at their limit after receiving credit to finance the remodelling of the Bernabéu (almost 600 million euros to be paid back over 30 years). Madrid are the only one out of Europe's top clubs who didn't sign anyone at all. Even Barça, who are practically bankrupt, bought new players (for a total of 124 million euros) after selling a handful of players for 126 million.

The squad has been stripped of its assets

Madrid didn't buy anyone last summer but did sell several players - bringing in 85 million euros: 40M for Achraf, 30M for Reguilón and 15M for Óscar Rodríguez. But the squad has been effectively stripped of its assets. Now Zidane looks at his subs' bench and those three are no loner there and nor are Bale, James, Ceballos and Brahim… It was important for the club to reduce the wages bill but some of the players who have left contributed more than those who stayed. For example, goals per minute conceded by Real Madrid over the last three seasons in LaLiga with Reguilón one the pitch: one goal every 140 minutes; with Mendy on the pitch: one goal every 180 minutes;with Marcelo: one goal every 72 minutes. Reguilón has gone, he left for 30 million euros. Mendy joined for 48 million. Marcelo is under contract until June 2022.