The Los Blancos’ hierarchy and players will agree that it is well within my rights to say that they are currently going through a state of flux. Real Madrid’s transition from the Ronaldo era to the post-Ronaldo era has not been a walk in the park and has had conspicuous effects on their game play and the outcome of their matches. They have performed below par and have very much been a shadow of themselves in recent outings. Having monitored the situation closely, Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez, considered it appropriate to sack Julen Lopetegui after just fourteen matches in charge and temporarily replaced him with Santiago Solari, previously Madrid’s Castilla side coach, saddling him wth the responsibility of rescuing Real Madrid from the pithole which they have fallen into.
It is noteworthy that Real Madrid had a run of fine games at the start of the season defeating in no particular order the likes of Getafe, Girona, AS Roma (in the Champions League) and Leganes. However, Real Madrid began to show signs of unsteadiness against the backdrop of their first league defeat at the hands of Sevilla. Their woes undoubtedly began as they lost subsequent matches against Deportivo Alaves and Levante in La liga and lost to CSKA Moscow in the UCL, as a result speculations about Lopetegui’s future began to arise.
At the time, the players pledged their allegiance to Julen Lopetegui despite the uncertainty surrounding his future at the club, backing him to deliver against all odds. Then came Real Madrid’s 5-1 humiliation at the hands of their arch rival Barcelona and this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back as Barcelona’s defeat was their fifth in seven games at the time. The result of their abysmal form was Lopetegui’s sack.
Looking at the manner of Lopetegui’s lay off, it will be cruel and unfair to heap all the blame on Julen Lopetegui for Real Madrid’s failure to perform up to their expected standards. Club president, Florentino Perez must share an iota of the blame as well. Madrid’s business in the summer transfer market left many in awe as their record goal-scorer and five-time Ballon d’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was sold to Juventus who paid a club record fee for his services. This was an unexpected move which no one envisaged and Ronaldo’s departure meant Real Madrid had to look for a suitable replacement. Perez notably refused to sign an ideal replacement for reasons not really known and left Lopetegui with the arduous task of filling the gargantguan void at Real Madrid’s frontline with players at his disposal. Madrid went on to bring in the likes of Andriy Lunin, Alvaro Odriozola, Vinicius Jr., Thibaut Courtois and Mariano Diaz who requested for Ronaldo’s number 7 jersey.
Real Madrid’s game play has so far lacked the clinical touch it used to possess in front of goal and it largely boils down to the absence of Ronaldo. Ronaldo used to usually be at the receiving end of all sorts of sumptuous passes and delightful crosses which he in turn converts most of the time during his stint at Real Madrid. The current crop of players have had to adapt to the absence of Ronaldo’s domineering figure upfront and have had to share goal-scoring duties amongst each other if I can call it that. The lack of a target man and clinical finisher upfront has proven costly for Real Madrid thus far as Karim Benzema their current top goalscorer in all competitions possesses none of the aforesaid qualities. Gareth Bale has, as usual, suffered injury setbacks and Madrid’s sold-but-recovered striker Mariano Diaz has had to play second fiddle to Karim Benzema despite Benzema’s lacklustre performances occasionally and at other times has been made to play on the left side of a front three which is not his preferred position. It would not be inappropriate for me to say that Real Madrid do not have a real goalscoring threat at the moment and presently do not possess any fear factor like they used to.
Meanwhile, it looks as if Madrid’s attacking issues has diverted to their backline as the duo of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane’s recent performances has been nothing short of underwhelming with the former notably making a costly error that led to Barcelona’s fourth goal in their recent El Clasico clash and the latter getting substituted at half-time in the same match against Barcelona as Lopetegui switched to a back three.
It suffices to say that Ronaldo’s blistering form for Juventus currently is a slap on Madrid’s face because they can no longer enjoy the benefits of having a player of his calibre in their team who can propel them back to winning ways. Infact, Ronaldo recently revealed that one of the major reasons he chose to leave the Madrid giants was because Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s president, no longer regarded him as ‘indispensable’.Though Real Madrid’s hierarchy might not want to admit it, they more or less rue their sale of Ronaldo as the move seems to have boomeranged.
Amidst all these, there have been ‘whispers’ amongst fans and pundits alike that the Real Madrid team no longer have the motivation to play well due to the fact that they won the UCL for three consecutive years and as a result they have become complacent with their performances. However, this cannot entirely be the rationale behind their dismal performances as their domestic league stats has equally been an eyesore. It is only logical that a team does exceptionally well in their domestic league if they believe the UCL is not worth vying for anymore but this evidently isn’t the case with Real Madrid’s all-round performance so far. And as the nature of the game would have it, players cannot all be dismissed at once so the coach is left to bear the brunt.
Predictably, two games into Santiago Solari’s reign and Real Madrid have managed back to back wins, one in the Copa Del Rey and the other in La Liga albeit against lesser oppositions. But no one is getting carried away just yet, Solari’s tactical nous will be tested in coming matches against stronger oppositions and only then can we know if he is the right man for the job and if Real Madrid are indeed back on the right track.
It is left to be seen how things pan out, particularly, if Real Madrid can get the Ronaldo factor behind them and start producing performances befitting players donning the Madrid jersey and befitting the badge which they represent.