Just when it seemed Real Madrid were turning the corner, they fell yet again. The reigning champions entered their match at Los Carmenes stadium having scored nine goals in their last two La Liga outings without conceding one. But, against a Granada side trying to stave off the threat of relegation, Jose Mourinho’s men came out empty-handed for the fifth time this season.
To almost everyone one, the result came as a real surprise. For El Grana’s new coach Luca Alcaraz however, it was not as such. Installed as the club’s new boss just three days prior, the much-travelled tactician was in confident mood before the match and was even relishing the prospect of facing Los Blancos in his first game in charge. “During the week I was the only one that said we could win this game”, he boasted after the match. And how he proved everyone wrong.
Talking of surprises, in his post-match conference Mourinho started by praising the victors on the night and admitting they deserved all three points. “Granada have done their job, have scored their goal, have defended with everything they’ve got. They’ve had a great party night here, because they’ve done their utmost to secure the result. For the great effort of Granada and the spirit they’ve put into the game, the three points for them are justified,” the Portuguese tactician said.
The hosts did very well defensively, particularly in the first half as they limited the more illustrious visitors to long speculative efforts. Indeed, the champions did not register a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. For all their valiant efforts, by the end of the game Granada were still statistically outdone and Ronaldo’s own-goal remained ‘their’ only effort that was on target throughout the contest.
Ironically, in the same fixture last season it was an own-goal from David Cortes that decided the result deep into injury time after a penalty from Ronaldo had levelled matters nine minutes earlier. Despite their fortuitous win back then, few questioned whether Madrid were deserving winners just like few are questioning whether they deserved more from their latest outing in Granada – and it is with good reason.
Despite their statistical superiority, Los Merengues once again displayed a distinct lack of motivation. Some players looked tired while as a collective they appeared uninspired. Perhaps it was due to the physical and mental exertions of their heated bout with Barca on Wednesday – as Mourinho predictably alluded to later – that the champions failed to “show up”, as the headline of Marca read. And, to a degree this may have been a factor, but, it does not explain the whole story.
After all, this was not the first time that Real Madrid have failed to convince this season as for the best part they have looked a shadow of the team that marched to the League title last May.
With the playing staff essentially unchanged, the only plausible explanation for the dramatic fall from grace of Los Blancos can be that the players have simply not played at their best at a sufficiently consistent level. And given the constant speculation and rumours regarding the increasing divides within the team, from the outside it seems that too much of their energies have been consumed in dressing-room politics.
Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas have been at the forefront of the internal conflicts directed towards Mourinho. Ronaldo’s admittance that he was “sad” earlier in the season set the tone for the dramas that have since unfolded.
Last November Mourinho whined, “I do not have a team”. And, one can now see what the former Inter boss was suggesting. He does not have a team, at least not one that is united. Of course, as Coach the 50-year-old is culpable. It is his job to keep control of the dressing room. Still, the players should also be held accountable too.
Especially a group of players so handsomely paid and representing one the foremost clubs in the world. Whatever personal grudges they hold against the Mister, when they take to the pitch it is their responsibility to leave all such squabbles off it and get on with the job on it. Individually, Real Madrid players are worth almost eight times more than their hosts from Saturday night, yet it was hardly visible on the pitch on Saturday night and for this there is no excuse.
Granada demonstrated greater motivation. They went for every ball and many times were the first to it. Their level of commitment put Mourinho’s stars to shame. El Grana were deserving winners for the spirit they displayed, in what was their first win over Real Madrid since 1972.
Any hopes in claiming back-to-back championships that Madrid may have still garnered surely have all but disappeared, especially if Barcelona manage to extend the gap to 18 points. With La Liga success becoming most improbable if not impossible, the only positive Mourinho can continue with is the knowledge that at least when his players are confronted with top opposition – like Barcelona – they do perform to their best. Perhaps for this reason, having been drawn with Manchester United in the Champions League may actually be a blessing in the club’s bid to reach Wembley.