Following their draw with Celta Vigo, Real Madrid now find themselves 16 points behind first-placed Barcelona, with a game in hand. They are fourth, 7 points behind Atletico and 5 points behind Valencia. In fact, they are closer to 5th and 6th than 2nd and 3rd. It’s that bad.
There were some glaring problems in the game in Vigo. With PSG in the horizon, these problems have to be fixed as soon as possible if Madrid are going to be ready for the attacking force from Paris. Here are some of the problems that showed against Celta Vigo –
1. Marcelo is a liability in defence -Marcelo has been a force for Real Madrid for many years. He will retire as one of the greatest players to ever kick a ball, and rightly so. Last season’s performance against Bayern was Marcelo at his best. Art. However, barely 7 months later, he has put in a performance that is solidly one of his worst ever. Celta’s attacks prospered down his side. Their two goals came from his side and he was terrorised by Wass all night (Imagine what Mbappe would do to him in this form). Apart from the fact that he was atrocious when defending, his indiscipline was a bigger problem. He’s no the longer the force he used to be, physically. Consequently, he has no business being so adventurous going forward when there is a potent counter-attacking threat. For the Wass goal, he was caught out of position and could be seen struggling to get back as his side was completely exposed. He did not learn from it. Instead, he kept joining the attack time after time, getting caught out or too exhausted to mark properly when he did manage to get back into position. How Zidane let that persist all game is beyond me, especially when Real were 2-1 up and protecting their lead. Celta caught him out of position again and punished Madrid. 2-2. Truly poor.
2. Real Madrid’s defenders have a positioning problem – Real Madrid concede a lot of goals, far too many for a club of its stature. It’s 2018 and this is still happening. They have kept less clean sheets (7) than Leganes and Athletic Club and the same amount as Levante. They have also conceded 16 goals in 17 games. The Celta game gave us an idea why. Let’s begin with the fullbacks. The golden rule of fullbacks is that you should not have 2 attacking fullbacks on at the same time. When you do, you suffer because their instinct is always to go forward. A problem arises when they go forward at the same time. Most times, out of habit, one forgets to stay put when the other attacks. This can only really be pulled off without consequences if the team is firmly in control of possession, say 60 – 70%. Unfortunately, Madrid had 49% possession against Celta. Achraf and Marcelo kept making situations awkward for Varane and Nacho, despite Casemiro’s best efforts. Nacho himself was guilty of bad positioning numerous times, notably during the Celta move that led to Aspas earning a penalty. He messed up the offside trap twice in 6 seconds! Meanwhile, Marcelo was somewhere on the halfway line. Ridiculous. Zidane has to fix that.
3. Ronaldo needs to be optimised – Yes, Ronaldo is scoring a lot in the Champions League but La Liga is a completely different ballgame and it’s evident. Real Madrid are losing points because their best player’s league form is poor. The good news is that he has not completely lost his confidence. He’s still taking shots and trying to get into position. However, the current set up just isn’t working for him in La Liga. He played with Bale upfront and Isco roaming behind them. That just does not work for him. Ronaldo is at his best when he is sneaking into holes in the opposition defence from a wide position, with the attention on someone else – the striker. Well, at least in La Liga. Maybe Zidane should explore Isco in a False 9 role with Ronaldo and Bale wide. Real Madrid need their best player in form noq. There is no CL game until the PSG game and they cannot afford to go into that tie with Ronaldo out of rhythm. They will be in serious trouble.
4. Zidane’s substitutions – Lucas Vazquez for Modric while protecting a lead? Really? No surprise Celta scored 6 minutes later. When protecting a lead that late in the game, you need players that can hold onto the ball not just runners like Lucas. It was a terrible call and Zidane paid for it. If he had to take Modric off ( I think he had a knock), Kovacic should have come on for him with Isco remaining on the pitch. Instead, he brought on Kovacic for Isco and Vazquez for Modric. That did nothing to ease the pressure on Madrid at that point.
5. Slowing down a game is a foreign concept to Zidane/Madrid – So…you have the lead and your opponents are battering you with their Adrenaline all the way up. What do you do? Zidane, you slow down the pace of the game. Kill their momentum. Against Celta, Real Madrid just kept increasing the already frenetic pace of the game. Every time Celta went at Madrid (before their equaliser), Madrid went right back at them with more fire. This is not so bad in the 50th minute, of course. It’s a crazy thing to do beyond the 70th. That is the point when the team in the lead should establish control and lull the other team before calmly finishing them off. Even if the momentum of the other team isn’t killed via calm passing, it can be killed via deliberate light fouling. Just kill that momentum!
As Madrid struggled through their game, PSG were winning 6-1 away at Rennes in the French Cup without Cavani. That is not good news for Real Madrid. They need to start sorting out these issues now because the challenge in the horizon is no easy challenge.