With our upcoming Champions League match against Real Madrid we asked Gabe Lezra from Managing Madrid some questions about the defending champions.
Q1: Real Madrid are currently top of the table in La Liga yet fans don't seem to happy with how their season is going. What has gone wrong this season with RM?
Gabe Lezra: Well, I think your question correctly captures the sort of neurosis that can come over Real Madrid fans when the team drops points in any competition against any opponents. This neurosis includes a complete and total disregard for the bigger picture ("I don't care if Bale is Madrid's future and arguably the centerpiece of the attack, he didn't score against Las Palmas so he needs to be dropped immediately from the lineup in favor of [academy product of the moment]") and a remarkable ability to over-emphasize relatively minor issues ("OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH CRISTIANO HE'S SO ANGRY AT ZIDANE DOOOOOM") at the expense of potentially major problems (Madrid's defense has looked porous at best).
In terms of what has gone wrong, there have been a number of issues: first, Zidane has not been able to find the defensive stability this season that the team managed in the Champions League-winning run last season. I tend to think this is almost entirely due to the injury to exceptionally underrated starting keeper Keylor Navas, as I find replacement Kiko Casilla to be mediocre at best. Additionally, Rafa Varane has not been able to recapture the form that leap-frogged him over the born-again Pepe into the starting lineup--his mental mistakes have cost Madrid time and again. Both of these issues are relatively minor, in my mind, which is why I think the side has plenty of potential to turn around their run of bad form--a bit more intensity on the pitch and Madrid would have come away with three points against both Villarreal and Las Palmas.
In attack, Madrid has looked sporadically good while suffering through bouts of toothlessness. Newcomers Marco Asensio and Alvaro Morata have both played well in the chunk of time they have been on the pitch, while Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have been, well, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Ultimately, Madrid's attacking issues--if you can really call them that...) come down to the relative inaccuracy of the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) in the limited minutes they have played together since the latter two recovered from injuries. The issues that people are raising with Cristiano et al seem to me to be much ado about nothing--given time this type of form will largely even back out as shots that have clanged off the posts or been pushed just wide, etc., begin to fall in. The sample size is tiny and these players have suffered from some seriously bad luck.
Q2: How does anyone stop BBC? Is there actually a way? Please tell me so I can forward all info to Tuchel at once.
GL: I mean...it's kind of like playing against Messi, Neymar and Suarez--the game plan has to be to try to limit the damage that they can do while accepting that, if things are clicking for them it's going to be tough to stop. I think the key likely lies not in trying to be physical with the attacking trio or marking them out of the match, but rather trying to employ a pressing scheme that harms their distributors--primarily Luka Modric. If you can mark Modric out of the match, or force him to stay back and have other players try to feed the attacking trio, Madrid's attack can begin to look one-dimensional.
Dortmund is coming up against the trio at a pretty good time, though: Cristiano is struggling to recover his form after the injury that sent him out of the Eurocup final, while Benzema is just now working back to full strength. Bale is still a monster, but he does struggle if he isn't fed the ball.
Q3: Why does Real perform so poorly in Germany? Only 1 win in 23 games. And especially in Dortmund? 0W-2D-3L. Just a coincidence or is there a more solid reason?
GL: The German curse! Yeah, I have no goddamn idea about that one. Madrid's record in Spain against German teams is almost equally good (don't know the exact numbers), so there must be something about the country that just spooks them? I can't imagine the answer being more than a strange quirk of history.