It is always a tough ask to think of how to improve upon a Champions League winning campaign. However, when you couple the capture of the CL crown with a third place league finish (in a league with only three actual competitors), there is definitely room for improvement. So, how do Los Blancos gear up for a year of possible improvement? By selling two of the most important players in their side…and by avoiding their biggest weaknesses in the transfer window. Still, if any team can still succeed, it has to be Madrid…right?
While there is no doubt that any with the likes of Ronaldo, Bale, Ramos, and various other MASSIVE names would be a formidable force on the pitch, Madrid have taken only three points from nine possible in their opening three matches. It is still a bit early to be pressing the panic button, but a team with the goals of Real will mean that questions are already being asked about what is wrong with this team.
First, letting go of Alonso and Di Maria is/was/will be a mistake. Alonso, even during his worst spells, is the glue that allowed all of Madrid’s free flowing players to move across the pitch as they please. The possible Alonso replacement in Kroos sees a player without the experience and with eyes for attack that Alonso tended to shirk in favor of his defensive responsibilities. Even Modric, the more disciplined tactically between Kroos and himself, likes to float around the pitch and can be considered anything but physical. Against Atletico, counter attacks ripped Real apart as there was no midfield cover to prevent the back-line from being exposed against the willing runners that broke them down time and time again. While Benzema should have had Los Blancos up 2-1 if his touch had not resembled that of a rec league player for a few seconds, the fact remains that the loss of Alonso runs deep.
Second, the departure of Angel Di Maria may have raised a few eyebrows as boardroom rumors between the Argentine and Real began to leak, but the new Manchester United #7 was key for Madrid last year. While it never ceases to amaze that a player that is so one-footed can be such a force at this level, Di Maria brings an unselfish nature to the Madrid wings that they are now lacking. While Ronaldo, Bale, and others will provide more than a few assists, most of these players tend to take a selfish route before attempting to add another to a teammate’s goal tally. Di Maria (and, to take a look a bit further back, Ozil) allowed the goal scorers to attack the box in preparation for a well placed ball. Now, a few minutes worth of watching will see (until the last few minutes of desperation in a match) that these goal scorers know that their counterparts are thinking selfishly and their forays into the box (without the ball) are not as frequent. Two moves…two mistakes…zero true replacements.
While the move for Toni Kroos could prove massive as he grows into a potential superstar midfielder, the big money move for James Rodriguez was a post-WC impulse buy and Chicharito arriving in Madrid feels like the definition of “desperate.” Madrid has long looked for Benzema cover, especially after the Higuain departure, but Chicharito has not been in Madrid-esque form since his early days with United. Conversely, despite showing decent flashes early with Madrid, such a club with so much world experience should know the dangers of buying a player off of World Cup-hype. Although the Colombian international lit up Brazil this past summer, another year’s worth of scouting with him at Monaco and playing in the Champions League would have done Madrid scouts and ownership some serious good. With the amount they spent on James, a top-tier striker and a top-tier defender could have been brought into the fold.
The biggest issue that Madrid will have to answer for is their defense. While Varane is as close to a future star “guarantee” as you can get, something has to change in order for Madrid to fix the current-WORST defensive record in La Liga. One loan signing in defense (of a player meant to spend most of his time with the “B” squad) is an absolute avoidance of Madrid’s biggest issue. Ask Liverpool, offense may win games, but the old cliche of defenses winning championships tends to ring loud and true (just ask Real’s neighbors, Atletico).
A club with the power of Madrid and the obvious star power will not have to worry about being too far off the pace when January comes around. However, if Los Blancos whiff on the upcoming transfer window and they are unable to fix any of their current GLARING problems, it could be a tough year for Madrid fans. Considering the upcoming year feels very “open” when it comes to player futures with players like CR7 and a few others, Madrid needs to experience success this year to convince their players that the club is on the right track. 5 years ago, could anyone have predicted that Atletico would be the force out of Spain? The unpredictability is why this sport is so fantastic…