One of the games of the season saw a cracking contest between Real Madrid and German side Schalke end 4-3 to the away side. Los Blancos came back twice to eventually lead 3-2, but superb strikes from Leroy Sane and Klass Jan Huntelaar meant that holders Real were hanging on in the dying seconds.
Even though this result means they now qualify for their fifth straight Champions League Quarter Final, whistles and jeers at the final whistle accompanied by white hankie waving – a traditional Spanish way to show displeasure – told the players and boss Carlo Ancelotti exactly what they thought of their performance . Not even a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo making him the all-time Champions League top scorer ahead of Lionel Messi was enough to please the crowd, who have seen their team’s recent form fall off a cliff in recent weeks.
After the match their legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas admitted, “it was not one of my best matches” and that he thought they had “hit rock bottom”. Speaking to reporters he told them, “It is true that we have hit rock bottom in a resounding manner, but the positive is that next week we are in the draw.”
This is now successive defeats for Real Madrid, with no win in three, and the murmurs of discontent from the boardroom are starting to filter down to the Spanish papers. Ancelotti’s critics say he is a soft touch and claim he is not willing to take the brave footballing decisions needed to turn around the Club’s form. There are also suggestions that he is trying to play a political game – the tricky task facing all managers at the Bernabeu – to placate the Chairman by playing the BBC (Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano, christened BBC by the Spanish press) in all fixtures when fit.
Real have not been playing well but their attacking prowess since the Christmas break has been significantly lower. Previously they were averaging 3.6 goals per game, this now down to 1.7 per game. Since Christmas the BBC have scored just 15 times. Compared to the 39 goals in 15 games before Christmas and this is quite a remarkable drop in form.
It is clear that both Bale and Cristiano are out of form, despite the latter’s two goals against Schalke, changes are needed in the line up. The returning Jese Rodriguez was guaranteed some game time which is yet to materialise, and with a lack of rotation, there is a chance of some dissension in the ranks. A change to 4-3-3 since James Rodriguez’ injury has been slightly forced on Ancelotti, but their best results came when playing a 4-4-2 and the change in shape hasn’t proved successful thus far.
It is also clear that they dearly miss the presence of Sergio Ramos in defence. His influence in the team cannot be underestimated and that without him they lack leadership at the back. Pepe and Raphael Varane are good players, but they aren’t a number one centre back, one which organises and leads a defence. Without Ramos’ direction they look lost at times, which last night resulted in four goals conceded.
On a positive note for the Bernabeu faithful, Luca Modric made his return after 144 days out with injury and there was a great roar of appreciation from the fans when he replaced Sami Khedira in the 58th minute. Along with the departed Angel Di Maria, his injury has left a huge hole in the Madrid midfield. Toni Kroos in his first season in Spain has adapted brilliantly. However, coming off of the back of a victorious World Cup campaign with Germany and Modric’s injury forcing him to play in almost every game, he is in need of rotation. Assier Illaramendi, Khedira and January signing Lucas Silva have not proved that they are the solution to Ancelotti’s midfield problems. Although the coach cannot control injuries to key players such as James, Modric and Ramos, he is the man responsible for preparing the style of play and the team he picks.
This weekends La Liga fixture at home to Levante should be a formality to Carlo Ancelotti’s men. He now has to regroup and shuffle his pack as El Clasico looms on Sunday 22nd March. A heavy defeat at the Camp Nou to Barcelona could mean not only should he fear the white hankies out in force at the Bernabeu, but an unwelcome invitation to the Presidents Suite too.