“It’s a game of two halves”. As football clichés go, this is undoubtedly the most over-used quote in describing a match. However, it could not be any more appropriate when describing the events that unfolded at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon, a match which saw Real Madrid run riot with a 5-1 win against an uninspired showing from Real Sociedad.
For many, it was no surprise that La Real struggled. Despite starting off the match on a positive note, Arrasate’s troops put in an uninspired performance in the first half, and the summer departures of coach Phillippe Montanier and Asier Illarramendi are finally taking its toll on the club.
Their opponents however were ruthless in attack. Benzema and Khedira both chipped in with strikes as Madrid headed into half-time with an unassailable lead.
And although Gareth Bale finally seems to be settling in to his new surroundings and Benzema finding some form after a disappointing start to the season, the talking point around the capital was Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick.
Since FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s highly publicised gaffe, in which he stated that he preferred Lionel Messi over his Portuguese counterpart, Ronaldo has been in fine form, scoring nine goals in his last four matches, equating to 62 goals within this calendar year.
And although the world has witnessed Madrid’s extravagant front three bang in goals, things are not as rosy for the capital club as they seem; for at the other end, goals too have been flying in.
Since his arrival at the club, Ancelotti has often spoken of the need to play possession based “spectacular football”, a far cry from Mourinho’s counter-attacking style of play, which at times proved sterile and ineffective.
And although lacklustre performances against opposing teams, which were prominent early on in the season, are now seemingly behind them, their new brand of attacking football often sees Madrid neglect their defensive duties.
Throughout the capital club’s 17 matches this season, Ancelotti has started with 17 different defensive backlines; their latest back four consisting of Carvajal, Pepe, Varane and Arbeloa.
However, although the lack of continuity in team selections is proving to be a problem, it is the defensive performances that are the real concern.
Throughout their 17 matches, Madrid have conceded a total of 21 goals, at a rate of 1.24 per game.
In the second half against Real Sociedad, Antoine Griezmann, who had 5 or so chances at goal, and Carlos Vela proved to be a constant thorn in Madrid’s side. Varane and Pepe were often slow to react to quick counter-attacks. Alvaro Arbeloa, who cynically fouled Carlos Martinez, who later limped off as a result of the challenge, was constantly in advanced attacking positions and caught out of position. And had it not been for a fine individual performance by Diego Lopez, the score line would’ve read differently.
Speaking after Madrid’s 7-3 victory at home against Sevilla last month, Ancelotti spoke of the need to find a balance – balance being attacking and defending well simultaneously. From yesterday’s showing, Real Madrid are far from perfect and need to vastly improve should they claim silverware and the all-important La Decima this season.