After two disappointing defeats in La Liga that saw them fall to the third position, Real Madrid seem to be back on track after earning two emphatic victories against Rayo Vallecano (5-0) and Borussia Dortmund (3-0).
Many argue Los Blancos are still favourites to win the treble –La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League. However, despite their recent good results, there are a few problems Los Merengues are yet to solve in order to have a successful season.
1. The lack of defensive commitment from the forwards. Xabi Alonso claimed a few days ago that Real wouldn’t lift any titles if they kept defending with only seven men, complaining about the little help the defenders and midfielders receive from Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Although the three of them have shown a better attitude lately –especially Benzema– it was clear against Dortmund that they relax too often, leaving open spaces in midfield that allow rivals to reach the box more easily.
2. The full-backs conundrum. If Carlo Ancelotti should be worried about his forwards defensive performance, he should also be concerned about Madrid’s problems when Daniel Carvajal and Marcelo play together. Both lose their position very frequently to join the attack, and that often leaves Sergio Ramos and Pepe holding the defence by themselves, with the occasional help of Xabi Alonso, who has been a key player for Los Blancos not conceding dozens of goals in counter-attacks. Both Carvajal and Marcelo should be more selective with their forrays forward, and they should become aware of the importance they have in the team’s balance.
3. Solidarity in attack. One of the problems many predicted when Los Merengues signed Gareth Bale has started to worry the Santiago Bernabeu fans, who booed Ronaldo in Rayo’s match and Bale against Borussia for their lack of solidarity. This was also clear the Sevilla game, when Ronaldo complained that the Welshman stole a last minute free kick from him. Yet the Portuguese was criticised when he didn’t assist Morata to score a clear goal against Rayo, and on Wednesday Bale did exactly the same in a counter-attack, losing the ball after having denied Ronaldo a clear pass and receiving the fans’ whistles. Ancelotti needs to manage their egos better, since the good understanding of the attacking trio will be crucial for Real to win titles this season.
4. Better sharing the minutes of play. Since the beginning of 2014, when Ancelotti found his best starting eleven with the 4-3-3 formation, the Italian has barely rotated players. Los Blancos have reached the crucial part of the season fearing that fitness problems might start punishing them. Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro should step up for Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric to get some rest, as they are probably the ones with a worse natural physical condition. While Ronaldo and Bale always seem to be in spectacular form no matter how many minutes they play, they could also benefit from some rest in order to prevent injuries –the Welshman has been sidelined too frequently this season and the Portuguese scared everyone when he asked to be replaced against Dortmund.
5. The Santiago Bernabeu’s support. Despite Real Madrid sitting third in La Liga only three points behind the leader Atletico, the fact of having lost two games in a row caused the Bernabeu’s crowd to boo constantly during the match against Rayo. No matter how well the team is doing overall in the season or how hard the players fight, as soon as the results are slightly negative the Santiago Bernabeu fans will always start booing and jeering at their own players. As embarrassing as it might seem for other clubs, this is pretty normal at Real Madrid, and that is very harmful for the club. When things aren’t going their way, the players need the support from their own people, because otherwise division and controversy will reign, as they always have, at the club. La Decima will probably never arrive at the Bernabeu’s trophy room as long as this issue is not solved.