You’ve always heard of the calm before and after a storm. However, there’s never a guarantee that the calm will last long, or if the following storm will be even bigger. Real Madrid are always under immense pressure. When they don’t win titles, it’s very noticeable, but when they win them, it can be even worse. Their first double in 25 years was very well received, yet over a hundred days after La Décima, things don’t look especially bright for Los Blancos.
Friendlies should be left out of the discussion, since they come at an unfortunate time. Their first official game gave them a title, the UEFA Super Cup. It’s imperative to point out that Sevilla were very weak, and that was enough for a mediocre Real to win the trophy. The second Super Cup was a total disaster, since the team was unable to play well and its defense was unfocused. Atlético Madrid became the Spanish Super Champions.
Then came the La Liga start. Against the recently-promoted Córdoba, the team ended up struggling, until Ronaldo scored the final 2-0. The team didn’t play well, and it was obvious that the departures and arrivals needed time for mourning and adjusting, respectively. James wasn’t fitting in, the market was still open and the fans started to get annoyed. Because this was the first La Liga game, the team were given the benefit of the doubt.
What came after this, wasn’t pretty. A brilliant 20 minutes against Sociedad at Anoeta put the team up 2-0 fast. Relaxation hit the team, with concentration errors costing them a 4-2 loss. After the international break, things didn’t get any better. Real dominated a bit against Atleti, then failed again and lost 1-2 at the Bernabéu. We started to hear the crowd’s uproar, booing Casillas, Benzema and even the club’s President.
Despite the criticism, the keeper debate and other factors, Ancelotti stayed true to his system. With the exception of Nacho’s inclusion, the team was the “typical” starting XI. The team clearly dominated, scoring 4-0 just over the half-hour mark. Basel scored before the break, and complicated things a bit throughout the rest of the match. Benzema put the definitive 5-1 and everyone went home rather pleased.
If you move past the happy feeling of a big win, you still have to be realist about the problems the team is facing. Kroos, Modrić and James are fantastic players, still they lack the defensive sacrifice that players like Xabi Alonso, Busquets or others provide. That tactical ability to know when to be right in front of the center backs is key. None of those three players are able to do that well. Their job is to create, and from time to time, help out in the back.
The problem with Real is that James arrived with a heavy price tag, which forces him to play regularly. This worked great against small teams, but what happens when Barcelona, Liverpool or others come along? The Illarramendi alternative is one that Ancelotti should start giving some thought. Khedira isn’t that defensive player either, so it’s necessary for the manager to try out different things. The season’s long and the squad isn’t exactly large.
Illarramendi has been blamed for that night in Munich, yet not many people remember his excellent match at the Camp Nou. Putting him in would mean someone else would need to be benched. Injuries will happen, poor form will hit the players and morale will decrease. So will this win against Basel help the team go in the right direction? If the mistakes aren’t fixed, it’s doubtful that it will. It will only get tougher from now on.