Real Madrid scraped through to the Champions League quarter-finals last night, we explain why they were caused so many problems…
Real Madrid weren’t even supposed to break a sweat last night. They were meant to brush Schalke aside and go marching into the next round of the Champions League without blinking an eyelid. The only question was just how many goals they were going to score.
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After all, this was a repeat of the Last 16 tie from last year’s Champions League, when Madrid won 9-2 on aggregate on route to ‘La Decima’. This was also a Schalke team who had seemingly given up before the match had even begun, with a number of players rubbishing their chances.
Regardless of whether this was mind games or not, you don’t often get players – such as youngster Max Meyer – declaring: “We won’t progress,” before the game has even begun. Roberto Di Matteo’s side were quite prepared to go out, as long as they kept their heads held high.
Few could have expected the demolition that followed – Madrid conceding four goals on home turf, and coming within touching distance of being eliminated – only to escape with a 5-4 aggregate victory, following their 2-0 win in Germany a fortnight earlier.
Cristiano Ronaldo cut a perplexed and frustrated figure by the end of the game, despite scoring twice to become the competition’s all-time leading goalscorer. Last night’s loss represented Madrid’s fifth defeat in all competitions since the turn of the year, and difficult questions are starting to be asked of manager Carlo Ancelotti.
At the end of 2014, Real were Spanish Cup, European Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Champions League holders, coming off the back of a 22 game unbeaten run, and enjoying the benefits of having three of the planet’s four most expensive players in their attacking quartet.
However, after a cup humbling from Atletico Madrid, and a league defeat to Athletic Bilbao that has seen arch-rivals Barcelona promoted to La Liga title favourites, Real’s season is at risk of imploding in spectacular fashion.
So where’s it gone wrong? One of Ancelotti’s most pressing issues seems to be how best to utilise Gareth Bale. The world’s most expensive player has been the focus of plenty of criticism from the club’s notoriously hard-to-please supporters.
Due in no small part to the incredible price that Madrid paid for him, Bale is regularly compared with Ronaldo, and despite some excellent moments in a Real shirt – including the winner against Barcelona in last year’s Spanish Cup final – he inevitably falls short.
Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez and, perhaps most importantly, star midfielder Luca Modric, have struggled with injuries in recent months. The latter made his first appearance since mid-November last night, and with Xabi Alonso having left the club last summer, they’ve lacked the defensive grit in the middle of the park to battle through tough situations.
Modric’s absence has also reduced the service to the likes of Ronaldo and Bale, with the Portuguese’s recent run of eight goals in 12 games – prior to last night’s double – a little on the low-side by his incredibly high standards.
Add in the other, rather more obvious issues with their defence, and you can see why they’re starting to crumble. The likes of Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao simply don’t look up to scratch, while long serving goalkeeper Iker Casillas was at fault on more than one occasion last night.
Ancelotti has quite a task on his hands to help turnaround his side’s fortunes. As he’ll know only too well, Madrid are not known for their patience, and if he doesn’t get them back on song in the near future, then his previous successes will count for nothing.