In the wake of Real Madrid’s tough 2-1 loss away to a spirited Valencia side this past weekend, veteran defender Sergio Ramos was quick to quell any fears reassuring Madrid fans that the loss would merely be a blip, even going as far as suggesting that the team had become far too reassured in recent weeks.
Yet for all of Ramos’ positive talk there remains a glaring elephant in the room. Madrid have been winning games but for the past few months their overall play has dipped at a time when they’ve conveniently played against weaker opponents.
The ‘perfect season’ is rare and fluctuations in form are not only likely but expected. Yet Madrid have papered over cracks for some time now and as the business end of the season approaches their depth will surely be under the microscope.
Madrid fans were relatively unperturbed when Luka Modric pulled up with an injury while on international duty in mid-November. The emergence of Isco’s all round game reassured Los Blancos that they could adequately weather the storm. And they did, for the most part. Yet up until their debacle at Mestalla Madrid had yet to really play a challenging team, with the likes of Malaga and Celta Vigo their toughest opponents on paper.
Still, the trip to Almeria, which ended with a largely cosmetic score line of 4-1, was somewhat complicated. Had it not been for Iker Casillas’ heroics midway through the second half, the result could have easily been different.
While the Isco-Toni Kroos midfield can dominate against weaker opponents when Madrid have the ball for the majority of the match, against more competent midfields Madrid will struggle at times. Modric’s role as the metronome of Madrid is sorely missed. He’s far more mobile than Kroos and while his passing may not be as pinpoint as the German’s, it can often be more decisive in terms of moving the ball into the final third.
But where does this leave Isco? He was uncharacteristically weak at times in Valencia but he’s been phenomenal all season regardless of where Carlo Ancelotti decides to play him.
This leaves one potential issue in the form of Gareth Bale. Against Valencia Bale had the perfect opportunity to tie the match by either squaring to an expectant Karim Benzema or finishing himself, yet he fluffed his lines at the most crucial moment. Bale was been a big game player for Madrid in 2014 but his game-to-game performances have left something to be desired.
Madrid looked best this season when Bale was injured and Ancelotti employed the 4-4-2 formation. Bale’s inclusion on the right wing has affected James Rodriguez as well. Compared to his performance on the right side of midfield the Colombian can be relatively ineffective in the middle at times.
Madrid shouldn’t panic of course – the last time they lost two games in a row they responded with the 22 game streak. But though the results may not have shown it Madrid’s performances have been a tad inconsistent in the past months. But if there is anyone to get the job done it’s Ancelotti. The Italian will have to be delicate with his line-ups in preparation for the business end of the campaign if Madrid are to cap off this season with another impressive trophy haul.