It hasn’t been the best of starts to the season for Real Madrid— European giants and one of the best teams in the world. The Los Blancos had a calamitous campaign last term, losing both star man Cristiano Ronaldo, and head coach Zinedine Zidane. The club failed to replace Ronaldo while both Julien Lopetugui and Santiago Solari unsurprisingly couldn’t step into Zidane’s shoes. Zidane was brought back and was given the needed financial backing in the summer transfer window —more than €300m was spent in acquiring Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy, Eder Militao, Rodrygo Goes and Alphonse Areola.
With the signings made, much was expected by Real’s insatiable fans, but the team has failed to meet all expectations so far. Injuries, inability to bring in some of Zidane’s desired players, failure to offload some players, old age and loss of form by the majority of the squad can be attributed for Madrid’s topsy-turvy start to the season.
Although it’s still early in the season, Madrid are already behind Barcelona in La Liga and picked only a single point from their two matches in the UEFA Champions League (a loss to PSG and an embarrassing draw at the Bernabeu against Club Brugge). The latest set back was a 1-0 defeat to Real Mallorca in La Liga last Saturday. (The last time Mallorca defeated Real Madrid was in 2009).
In this article, TOP SOCCER BLOG looks at the different ways Madrid can improve before the end of the season.
PLAY TO HAZARD’S STRENGTH
Eden Hazard was signed from Chelsea too much fanfare, and much was expected of the Belgian. He has failed to hit the ground running so far, no thanks to injury. He missed the last match against Mallorca due to the birth of his 4th child and should be available for selection in the next match.
On his day, he can be unstoppable and unplayable. He showcased his immense ability in his 7-year stay at Chelsea and was arguably the best player in the Premier league throughout that period. Although he played under different managers and in different systems at Stamford Bridge, he was always the go-to man, with the whole Chelsea team being set up to play to his strengths— this is also the case when he plays for his national team.
Zidane will be doing himself and the whole Madrid team a world of good if he decides to adopt this system. Although Hazard is not a goal-machine like Cristiano Ronaldo, he is capable of providing assists, creating chances, keeping the opponents on their toes and also chipping in with important goals when the team plays to his strengths.
DITCH COURTOIS FOR AREOLA
Thibaut Courtois joined Madrid after some outstanding displays at the 2018 World Cup in Russia —where he won the Golden Glove.
Since his arrival, he has failed to capture the type form which convinced Real to sign him. In order to boost his confidence, Zidane gave him his total backing as number 1 ahead of the season and even went as far as selling Keylor Navas to PSG — a decision that he might come back to regret. Alphonse Areola was brought in from PSG to serve as back-up to Courtois. But Courtois’ form instead of improving, has gotten worse and the Belgian is currently in the worst form of his career (according to OPTA, he has conceded 9 goals from the last 14 shots on target he has faced in all competitions). It is time for Zidane to consider giving Areola a chance between the sticks.
PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR CASEMIRO AT THE BASE OF THE MIDFIELD
With full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal, overlapping regularly, the midfielders are expected to cover the spaces left behind. With most of the team’s midfielders being attacking-minded, Casemiro is often left alone to do the ‘dirty jobs’. Opposing teams now have a way of getting past the Brazilian, exposing the defence in the process. With youngster Federico Valverde, the other alternative in defensive midfield, one has to question Madrid’s decision to sell Marcos Llorente to arch-rivals, Athletico Madrid in the summer. Zidane needs to get another defensive midfielder in the January transfer window to assist Casemiro, or else the Brazilian will even burnout before the season ends.
SIGN A YOUNG AND DYNAMIC ATTACKING/CENTRAL MIDFIELDER IN JANUARY
Madrid failed to sign a midfielder in the summer despite having the aging Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, and likewise, the inconsistent Isco and James Rodriguez as their options in midfield, while also loaning out Dani Ceballos to Arsenal. Paul Pogba, Christian Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes, and Donny van de Beek were all linked to Real, but none of the transfers materialised. With Madrid’s midfield struggling to impose themselves in matches and failing to create chances for their forwards, signing a dynamic and creative midfielder in January will go a long way in helping the team. With Pogba still unsettled at Manchester United and Eriksen failing to sign a new contract at Tottenham, January will be a good opportunity for Real Madrid to pounce.
SORT OUT THE DEFENCE
Madrid’s defence has been poor so far this season. With the midfield very weak, the full-backs overlapping and the goalkeeper off-form, Madrid’s central defenders, have a lot of work to do. Sergio Ramos is crazily unreliable, and Nacho has been unconvincing anytime he is called upon, Zidane should give summer signing Eder Militao, a run of games to partner Varane in central defence.
Written by Muftaudeen Abdullahi Ishola