When you’re the champions of Europe, everyone wants a piece of you.
The best in the business, in any sport, have a target on their back after asserting dominance in their field.
Even so, you’d expect all-powerful forces like Real Madrid to cope with the pressure better than they are doing right now.
Los Blancos were demolished 1-5 by Barcelona in El Clásico on Sunday; a result which is likely to cost manager Julen Lopetegui, who only joined the club in the summer, his job.
But the writing has been on the wall for the Madrid outfit for a number of weeks, and they currently sit ninth in the La Liga table after winning just four of their opening ten matches.
Of course, there are two significantly-sized elephants in the room. Zinedine Zidane, the head coach beloved by many, left the club at the tailend of last season despite them once again lifting the Champions League trophy.
And there was also the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, as talismanic as a footballer can be, to Juventus.
But surely the loss of CR7 alone has not been enough to precipitate the Galacticos’ downfall….has it?
A Barren Spell
As we know, if there’s one thing that Ronaldo guarantees when he pulls on your shirt it’s goals, and that has been something that Real have been sorely lacking so far.
Just look at last season, for example. Zidane’s men averaged 2.47 goals per game in La Liga and 2.83 in their Champions League group phase.
In 2018/19, those figures are down to 1.40 in domestic action and 1.67 on the continent.
So what is the explanation? Well, clearly key figures aren’t pulling their weight in the absence of CR7. Combined, messrs Benzema, Bale, Isco and Asensio have contributed just nine goals in 30 starts on domestic duty, while in all competitions Marcelo, the left back, is third top scorer.
Some of the blame for that must be apportioned to Lopetegui, of course, who has so far failed to come up with a system which gets the best out of a still-talented squad of players. He may not get the chance, either, if newspaper rumours emanating out of Madrid are to be believed.
The Case for the Defence
It might surprise you to learn that Real Madrid have never been the soundest of sides defensively, even in amongst the collection of silverware they have compiled.
Last season, for instance, they conceded at a rate of 1.16 goals per game in La Liga and 1.17 in the Champions League group phase, which is arguably higher than we might otherwise expect for a team at the pinnacle of the game.
The truth is that those levels haven’t changed all too much so far this term, but they have been cruelly exposed by Spanish football’s two most thrilling entities in 2018/19: Barca and Sevilla.
That duo has put a combined eight goals past Real, and that shows that against stronger performers the likes of Sergio Ramos and co are unable to cope.
Again, there have been injuries to Dani Carvajal and others, while new faces – including Lopetegui and former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – also brings with it an element of uncertainty.
If you really want to win trophies, conceding more than a goal per game, on average, is not really the best way of going about your business.
We Need a Hero
A football club with the nickname ‘Los Galacticos’ has a reputation to uphold: namely, signing the best and most high profile players on the planet.
Flashback to 2009 when Real Madrid’s summer signings were next level ? pic.twitter.com/YHtj8dAunv
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) 30 August 2018
The likes of Raul, Figo, Zidane, Beckham and both Ronaldos have lit up the Bernabeu; a selection of players who can be classed as truly world stars.
A look at Real’s summer signings – Courtois, Mariano and Alvaro Odriozola – reveals rather more modest ambitions, and has left many questioning the financial muscle of president Florentino Perez.
Attempting to fill CR7’s void are Gareth Bale, who has never really taken his game to that level, Karim Benzema – a functional but not world-class centre forward, and the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos; outstanding players, but not ones who have world-conquering star status.
It seems as if Real are also suffering something of a identity crisis right now.
So What’s the Solution?
The most brutal – and yet, in the modern game, most likely – scenario is that Lopetegui will be given his marching orders.
The media are reporting that former Chelsea head honcho Antonio Conte is the most likely replacement. The Italian will certainly stiffen up that leaky backline, but will he aid their goal-shy forward line? He’s not exactly known for his entertaining brand of football, so the jury is out on that one.
The reserve team coach, Santiago Solari, has also been touted, but he hardly brings star quality.
Which begs the question: could Real be set to launch a huge bid to bring Mauricio Pochettino to Madrid?
At 20/1 the bookies aren’t convinced, but frustrations over a lack of summer signings and the ongoing delays to the White Hart Lane redevelopment, plus the fact that Tottenham are all but out of the Champions League, will surely turn the Argentine’s head?