Marca called them “A Colander,” AS said that they were “left naked.”
You can use whatever phrase you prefer but this has been a bad week for Real Madrid. Last Saturday they drew 0-0 at home to Villarreal (who are now the only undefeated side left in Spain) then on Tuesday they were embarrassed 2-1 at home against Sheriff Tiraspol and finally on Sunday afternoon they were beaten 2-1 again, this time at newly promoted Espanyol.
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This isn’t necessarily anything new. For the past few years Real have normally started a little bit slowly. Last season they were beaten at home by Cadiz in October and Alaves in November. The season prior Mallorca beat them in October after two draws in the first three games. In 2018-19 they went five games without a win between September 26 and November 3. You get the idea.
And this was a team that lost out on the title last season and then saw their starting central defence leave the club, as well as failing to add either Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland. There was a change in the dugout as well with Carlo Ancelotti coming back to replace his former assistant Zinedine Zidane. They were reportedly in for wunderkind manager Julian Nagelsmann but he chose Bayern Munich.
Yet for the most part things started relatively well. The 3-3 draw against Levante was chaotic, and perhaps a bit of an aberration given their opponent’s catastrophic start to the season, but other than that they’ve been good. They beat Real Betis and Valencia away as well as handing out thrashings to Alaves, Celta Vigo and Mallorca. They even got a late win away against Inter Milan in their first Champions League game.
But this week has put a real downer on any potential optimism and leaves the club in a bit of a weird situation going into the international break. In some ways it’s a good chance for a break to allow everyone to collect their thoughts (and give some key players time to come back from injury) but on the other hand it means there is no immediate chance to stop the rot.
Defender Nacho Fernandez said that there are “no excuses” for the team and Ancelotti admitted that they are not in a good place at the moment.

Nacho

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“We deserved the defeat, the reaction came late and we are worried because we are not used to losing two games
“We have played badly. There isn’t much to say. After the game, there was a lot of confusion.
“It has been a bad game. Now we have the break and we have to reflect and see how the team changes its attitude in a week.”
So what’s the issue? Well let’s start with the defence, leaking goals to teams of Espanyol’s and Sheriff’s stature (no offence intended) is not great for a club like Real. Clearly losing Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane is having an impact. The lack of leadership and organisation within the back unit is particularly alarming. Having to start new signing David Alaba out at left-back rather than in the middle against Espanyol didn’t help that problem, but he was central for the Sheriff match to begin with at least. Alaba is a wonderful player, but he has to stay in the middle.
But even with the injuries there has to be questions asked of Ancelotti. If he doesn’t trust Miguel Gutierrez at left-back and moves Alaba out then why on earth would he play four central midfielders in front of the defence? Real were far too compact with really only Lucas Vazquez and to an extent Vinicius Jr offering width. Young players are never a guarantee but at least Gutierrez and Sergio Santos offer genuine positional knowledge without having to push senior players out of their comfort zone.

Miguel Gutiérrez (Real Madrid)

Image credit: Getty Images

It’s worth stating as well that Nacho, for as much credit as he should get for fronting up to the media, was nothing short of a liability. It’s not all his fault, he hasn’t played the same position two games in a row for the last five matches, but some of his errors are simply unforgivable for a club like Real. He deserves more chances and to be kept around because of his service to the team, but the hierarchy equally should be questioned for only signing one centre-back when two left. Yes Jesus Vallejo came back from his loan but we are yet to see enough to suggest he can play for Real regularly. Eder Militao too has been far from the player who made Real think they could happily live without Ramos and Varane.
Ancelotti needs to try and find a solution. When a manager is using phrases like “confusion on the pitch” or “we weren’t well-positioned” and “that’s our worst match of the season” it’s on him to find the solutions. Luka Jovic for example, much-maligned for so much of his Real career, showed promise off the bench, maybe he gets a run after the international break. Getting Eden Hazard fully fit should probably help as well, but there aren’t a lot of options after that.
Maybe this was always how this season was supposed to go. After losing a manager and two first-team stalwarts maybe a bit of a rebuild was always needed. If Mbappe or Haaland had come in maybe things would be a little different but they will be targets for next summer. As will, you imagine, the likes of Paul Pogba, Youri Tielemans and Christopher Nkunku. You’d like to think a centre-half would be in there as well, perhaps Pau Torres.
There’s nothing wrong with playing the long game. Even if the pressure at Real makes it difficult and thus that the long game can only be one season. After holding their charge this summer (and tackling the pandemic better than pretty much every major club) Real will be in position for what could be a historic summer in 2022. If the likes of Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga are blooded in, and players like Vinicius and Rodrygo take a step forward. Then Real will be well-placed for the future. Maybe they do have a plan after all…
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