Spanish newspaper AS’s online poll of 125,000 people a few days ago revealed that over two-thirds (67.5%) of Real Madrid fans want Cristiano Ronaldo out. This is the player who won the Ballon D’Or only last month — his second successive and fourth in five years.
That Real Madrid fans want Ronaldo out half-way into the season, just after he was crowned the best player in the world, underscores not just the kind of season Madrid are going through, but also what the fans think of the direction that their talisman might take.
After losing 1-0 against Villareal last weekend at home, Real will host Deportivo today (Sunday), with the defending champions (32) being 19 points behind league leaders Barcelona (51) at exactly halfway stage in La Liga, having played a game less.
Their 1-0 away win in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Leganes might’ve been crucial as the Spanish cup might just be their only chance to win silverware in the remainder of the season.
Real will take on Paris Saint Germaine in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League, with the two-time defending champions arguably less favoured going into the tie next month.
Hence, while Madrid’s season might be based entirely on aiming for a hat-trick of Champions League crowns, they are now up against a PSG juggernaut headline by Neymar Jr, meaning that being at the wrong side of the result could end Real’s season by March.
As discussed earlier, any finger pointing would have to begin with their star man. Ronaldo has scored four La Liga goals in 14 matches. And this hasn’t been owing to shortage of chances — the Portuguese has missed quite a few opportunities.
Intriguingly, the season started completely differently for both Real and Ronaldo. He scored in the first leg of the Super Cup as Real beat Barcelona and Ronaldo was sent off. A Ronaldo-less Real finished the job in the return leg, as Madrid looked all set to formally establish their dynasty this season and establish their dominance against Barca. That, of course, wasn’t meant to me.
Similarly, outside La Liga, Ronaldo’s winner against Gremio helped Real win the Club World Cup. He has also picked up yet another Champions League record by scoring in every group game, and managed nine goals in the six games. But defeat away to Tottenham Hotspurs meant that Real finished second in their group, which eventually meant them drawing against PSG in the first knockout round.
Outside of Ronaldo’s form, none of the other attackers has showed much La Liga form either. But what’s equally more apparent is the clear plunge that has been seen at the other end of the pitch. With 17 goals conceded in 18 matches, at a goal a game Real’s rate of conceding is more than twice that of Atletico Madrid and almost three times that of Barcelona. Furthermore, with a combined tally of a solitary goal and single assist Marcelo and Carvajal haven’t been contributing in the attack as they did last season.
Another major problem for Real Madrid is that they no longer have multiple options and a diversity in plans of action. This stems from the lack of rotation that has been forced by the activity in transfer market that manager Zinedine Zidane might be regretting now.
Alvaro Morata mightn’t exactly be setting the English Premier League afire with his performances for Chelsea, but his absence, along with the likes of Pepe and James Rodriguez, there is a significant dip in bench strength. Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos, Theo Hernandez, Jesus Vallejo and Borja Mayoral haven’t had any meaningful impact on the season at all.
This has meant that Karim Benzema, for example, has been given chance after chance, and he has continued to fail to deliver. No wonder that Zidane has been accused of bias and damaging favoritism towards his compatriot.
Another star from last season who is traversing a tangible dip in form is Toni Kroos, and with both ends either side of him already struggling, Real’s miseries are ubiquitous on the field.
So what next for Real Madrid then?
Madrid’s defeat against Villareal means that the gap between the two is a single point as they sit at fourth and fifth respectively. In fact, those that can realistically eye the top four go all the way down till 15th placed Real Sociedad who with 23 points are eight behind Madrid.
Real Madrid are actually almost the same distance (21 points) away from the bottom as they are from the top (19 points).
So while cementing top four in La Liga might be the priority, with third placed Valencia and second placed Atletico also eight and 10 points ahead of Real respectively, Champions League will make or break Real Madrid’s season, with a potential consolation in Copa del Rey. And it is becoming increasingly evident that this is Real’s priority for the remainder of the season.
Of course, knock PSG out, and all of a sudden Madrid are back in business in Europe.