Pablo Fornals’ 87th-minute winner against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday is the latest in the long list of debacle headlines the club has been subjected to this season. On the contrary, Barcelona turned things around at Anoeta – after going 2 goals down early in the first half – to win an entertaining 2-4 away contest which widened the point gap between them and rivals Madrid by a decisive total of 19.
When Real Madrid won a Spanish and European double last season, many predicted the Blancos to uphold their hegemony over world football for years to come. Their 5-1 mutilation of arch-rivals FC Barcelona in pre-season’s Spanish Super Cup further cemented their agenda of global dominance. Barcelona, conversely, had a nightmare start to 2017-18.
Losing one of their frontrunners in Neymar to PSG and then going on to face humiliation at the hands of their worst foes hinted that the Blaugranas had their best days behind them by a margin. Barca defender Pique had said after the 5-1 aggregate defeat that “this is the first time in 9 years that I feel inferior to Madrid,” and there’s no doubt they were, in fact, inferior to Madrid, at that moment in time.
Things have dramatically changed since then. The tables have turned on Madrid, and Barcelona have re-emerged on the map as one of the football’s elite once again, much to Madrid’s agony. Statistically, Real Madrid have played 28 games thus far this season, winning 15, drawing 8 and losing 5. Barcelona, on the other hand, are undefeated this season with 23 wins and 6 draws in 28 fixtures.
15 victories out of 28 fixtures are mediocre considering the calibre of weaponry available at Madrid’s arsenal. Their lacklustre approach up-front and an easily penetrable defence bewails that the Bernabeu dilemma is not just tactical, it’s psychological too. Morale is down at Madrid – it has been ever since Barcelona dominated them at their own backyard – and defeats inflicted by mid-table teams further damage their will to get up and get going.
Madrid’s defending this season has been woeful. The club has leaked 28 goals in 28 games, whereas Barcelona has been miraculously brilliant in defence giving away just a handful of 9 goals in the same amount of games. Madrid’s discipline has not been exemplary too. The Blancos have conceded 49 yellow cards and 3 red cards this season running.
Offensively, Real Madrid has been underperforming as well, with Cristiano Ronaldo the only Madridista to reach double figures in all competitions – courtesy his exceptional European goalscoring run. Their premier centre-forward Karim Benzema has scored a mere 5 goals this season, whereas Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio both have managed to score 7 times in all competitions.
Although Ronaldo has produced goals in the Champions League, he has failed to replicate his European Success in Spain. The Portuguese has attempted 94 shots in League campaign this season, only scoring 4 times. His conversion rate is just under 5 percent, which is the worst in top 5 European leagues. The 32-year-old goal machine is showing signs of wear and tear, which undoubtedly are taking a toll on Madrid’s expected outcomes.
Coach Zinedine Zidane has been under fire as club representatives and media personnel demand answers on how a team that went on a 73-game consecutive scoring run during his reign has failed to score in 4 of their last 7 games, and on top of that, lost two consecutive home games in La Liga. Zidane, for the time being, has decided to keep aside from all the negative publicity, but only temporarily. He knows, better than anyone else, that answers are needed.
Rumour has it that Zidane’s reign at the Bernabeu might come to an end if he does not brainstorm a solution soon enough. The stakes are so high at Madrid that Zidane – who has won 8 out of a possible 10 trophies with the club – has his future hanging in the balance. But not just Zidane, Ronaldo too is subject to a major rumour, according to which Madrid is planning to swap him with Neymar this month. The credibility of Neymar-Ronaldo swap rumour is questionable, but if it is true, it is insulting, not just for Cristiano, but football as a whole.
Madrid’s season, despite a Spanish Super Cup, Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup triumph, has been mediocre. The League is virtually out of their grip, their performances in Copa Del Rey have not been entirely convincing and their UCL defence faces a stern test in an ever-evolving PSG.
At Saturday’s post-match press conference, Zidane consistently repeated ‘I cannot explain this’ to unforgiving queries of Spanish journalists. The Frenchman must have been deeply intimidated by the hostile environment, something he is not used to of, of a press-conference hall awaiting a manager in tactical shambles, but he has to come up with answers and explanations – soon. The margins for error at Real Madrid are few and far between.