Replacing Carlo Ancelotti was always going to be a tough job for Rafa Benitez. The Italian was, after all, the man who led the club to their 10th Champions League trophy in his first season in charge – a trophy Real had been obsessed with winning for the previous 12 years.
Ancelotti’s two-year stint also brought with it a period of calm after the ups and downs of the Jose Mourinho era. The 56-year-old did not have touchline tantrums, he didn’t have spectacular fallings out with his players or arguments with opposing managers.
There has been some skepticism since day one towards Benitez, with some fans and pundits concerned about him being too defensive and not fitting in with the free-flowing style that Madridistas are so accustomed to.
Despite a promising start – 14 games unbeaten in all competitions up until the Sevilla game – the relationship between Benitez and the players and fans has seemed uneasy. Reports have emerged in recent weeks about senior players such as Ronaldo questioning his tactics while James Rodriguez added fuel to the fire when he questioned publicly why he had been held back from making his return from injury.
Saturday’s loss was embarrassing. Shambolic. Disastrous. Benitez abandoned his tactics and gave the Santiago Bernabeu and president Florentino Perez what they wanted – all out attack. He dropped defensive lynchpin Casemiro and went with an attack minded midfield of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez. Up front, he started both Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, both short of match fitness after spells out wit injury.
Afterwards, he told the media the plan was to attack and pressure high up the pitch. There was no pressure high up the pitch though, or indeed anywhere on the pitch and it meant Barcelona ran at the Madrid defence with ease as the midfield went AWOL. At the other end, Barcelona’s defenders will hardly have an easier night all season. A number of Madrid players spoke afterwards of giving Barcelona too much space – quite the understatement there.
Benitez, of course, is not solely to blame for what’s been going on. The players must take responsibility. As must the president, Florentino Perez, for his policy of signing the world’s best talent but not allowing managers to build a team. Chants of ‘Florentino resign’ rang out during and after the game. When the president comes under fire, he tends to point the finger of blame on the manager.
Perez gave Benitez s stay of execution on Monday when he backed the under fire boss to turn things around, but should things not improve soon, the Spaniard could be spending his free time improving his golf, taking longer holidays or if he’s into gaming or gambling, getting to know Mansion Group, the sponsor of Crystal Palace and Bournemouth Football Club and the owner of the popular brand casino.com .
Looking at the fixture list, Los Blancos have plenty of winnable games between now and the winter break. They host Getafe and Rayo Vallecano and visit Villareal in La Liga and also have the Copa del Rey tie with Cadiz. If they stumble in those and if the talk of discontent in the dressing room gets louder, the former Liverpool and Napoli boss could be out by the new year, and Real looking for their 12th permanent manager in 14 years.