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2019/20 Spanish Primera Liga: 3 reasons why Real Madrid's domestic travails are likely to continue

18 Aug 2019, 14:17 IST

Real Madrid are the record 33 times champions in Spain
Real Madrid are the record 33 times champions in Spain

The 89th edition of Spanish top-flight football competition, also known as the "Primera Liga", kicked off this weekend.

A 20 team league since the 1997-98 season, Real Madrid (33) and Barcelona (26) have been the two dominant Liga champions since the league's inception in 1929-30.

However, Real's paltry return of two titles in the last ten years pales in comparison with their title rivals Barcelona's tally of seven.

Bizarrely Real's lean domestic spell coincided with the arrival of their record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo who racked up a staggering 311 goals (a Liga record behind Messi's 419) during nine seasons with the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo is Real
Cristiano Ronaldo is Real's record goalscorer with 311 Liga goals and 450 in all competitions

The prolific Portuguese scored 30 or more goals in six consecutive seasons - a Liga record, which included the club's best single-season mark of 48 goals in 2014-15, and at least 25 goals in each of his nine seasons at the club.

The 2014-15 season saw Madrid match Barcelona's tally of 16 home wins and 14 away wins en route to a tally of 92 points only to fall short of their Catalan rivals by two points in a titanic title race. Despite an impressive 14 wins away from home that season, five of Real's six defeats in the league came on the road which proved decisive in the end.

The season evoked memories of the 2009-10 season when Real garnered a higher tally of points (96) only to be thwarted by Barcelona by 3 points.

It was the fourth time in the last ten years Real garnered at least 90 points and came up second best to Barcelona. The only other time Real had 90 plus points in the kitty, they won the league with a record tally of 100 points (2011-12).


League winners Barcelona scored 90 goals and garnered 87 points last season. In contrast Real endured 5 home defeats, a lowly 63 goals scored and their second-lowest tally of points since the turn of the century to finish a whopping 19 points behind Barcelona.

Madrid's highest individual Liga goal tally of the season came from Benzema (21) and the next best tally was from Gareth Bale (8).

This problem seems to have been addressed for the new season with the arrivals of club-record signing Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, amidst a multitude of expensive summer arrivals, but there are issues elsewhere which have been left unaddressed.

Real started the new season with a 3-1 win away at Celta Vigo. Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and substitute Lucas Vazquez were on the scoresheet for the visitors. It was a convincing win for the visitors who went top of the Primera Liga table for the first time in two years.

But as has often been said, a league is not a sprint but a marathon. A good start to the season needs to be complemented with performances of a similar fervour throughout the entire season.

Since their last title triumph in 2016-17, Madrid have faltered against their principal title rival Barcelona, finishing a staggering 19 and 17 points adrift of the Catalan club respectively in the previous two seasons.

Here are three reasons to suggest why Real's domestic travails are unlikely to end this season.

# 1: Lack of defensive discipline

Ramos sees a red card, not for the first time in his Madrid career
Ramos sees a red card, not for the first time in his Madrid career

Erstwhile coach Jose Mourinho tried and failed to instill a defensive discipline ala at his previous club Internazionale of Serie A, but failed. Real would simply not budge from their attack at all cost mentality which often proved detrimental to their domestic ambitions. It has been six years since the Portuguese left the club but things have only exacerbated on that front.

Defender Sergio Ramos would more often be found in the opposition half than in his own, perhaps in a bid to showcase his attacking credentials, which leaves a man short in the Real defence. Ramos's poor tackling skills often leads him to lunge at the feet of opponents when he loses the ball. Not surprisingly, the Madrid captain holds the ignominious Liga record of most red cards.

Collectively the Real defence collected 34 yellow cards and 4 red cards (Nacho, Ramos, Casemiro, and Vazquez) in the Liga last season, with Dani Carvajal the illest disciplined with 10 yellow cards, en route to conceding an unflattering 46 goals.

# 2: Poor form of their goalkeepers

Thibaut Courtois
Thibaut Courtois

Real acquired the services of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea, at the start of the last season, in a 35 million euro deal. But the Belgian struggled to adapt to life at the Bernabéu, dishing out indifferent performances festooned with glaring errors, for a keeper touted as one of the best in the world.

The return of Zidane at the Madrid helm saw Courtois lose his spot in the XI to Keylor Navas. But the change failed to produce a significant upturn in fortune as the Costa Rican is now a pale shadow of his illustrious self.

It is not ideal when the defence doesn't adequately shield the keeper. It gets worse still when the last line of defence is as shaky as the men in front of the custodian.

Not surprisingly Real managed only 12 clean sheets in the season (Courtois-8, Navas-4) which was well short of Barcelona's 17 and Atletico's 20.

# 3: Return of Zidane as coach

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane

Madrid suffered consecutive home defeats to be knocked out of contention in three competitions in the space of a week. The management was desperate to stem the rot and turned to Zidane who had led the club to three straight successes in Europe and a domestic title before leaving the club of his own volition at the end of the 2017-18 season.

The decision to go back to Zidane was made more in panic than with prudence and good judgement since the Frenchman, despite multiple titles in his kitty, is largely an unproven entity in club management.

It may be harsh to opine that Madrid's titles, with Zidane at the helm, came not because of their head coach's masterful tactics and strategies but because of the singular brilliance of their prolific goal-scoring machine named Cristiano Ronaldo and the presence of midfield stalwarts like Modric and Kroos.

With Madrid now in desperate need of an overhaul, the Frenchman faces the onerous task of rebuilding a disjointed side, stamping his managerial style on the team and play attractive attacking football.

Zidane knows his margin for error is minimal as patience is a rare commodity in the corridors of power at the Bernabéu.

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