21 goals in Real Madrid's last 3 home games, but Rafa Benitez still has a lot of work to do
What Benitez needs to address in the January transfer window to improve the Real Madrid squad, especially the midfield
“Goals,” Ruud van Nistelrooy once said, “are like ketchup in a bottle; they don’t come out easily, but when they do, they pour out at once.” In the last 3 games at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid have scored an astonishing 21 goals. One would have thought that a team scoring so freely are ought to have a happy bunch of fans—but looking at Madridistas, they are anything but.
After a 4-0 drubbing to Barca at home, fans have been voicing their concerns more ferociously than ever—and they are right at doing so. While Rafa Benitez has been made the subject to a lot of criticism, it is Florentino Perez’s head that the fans want.
Under the leadership of the construction magnate, the Spanish club may have made a fortune with commercial deals, but they are well behind in terms of silverware when compared to their eternal rivals, Barcelona.
The club started exceedingly well under the former Liverpool boss. With an astute rear, Real ground out some difficult wins with most of their players out injured. However, right now, the lack of consistency is worrying.
One week, they score a flurry of goals and the very next week, against a trickier opponent, they get scattered all over the place.
Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo are following a somewhat similar pattern. Against tough opponents, they are almost anonymous but pounce on weaker teams like lions on a dead cow.
The reason for this is perhaps deeper than what appears, with Real Madrid’s midfield at the core of it.
The Blancos have a flurry of world-class midfielders, but not a single one of them can be labeled as an efficient ball-winner. While Casemiro can be handed that tag, he still has some way to go before becoming a world class player, hence leaving the club highly short of bite in midfield.
So this puts them in a difficult position against the roundly balanced or physically imposing midfielders. Against such teams, the Whites’ midfield appears like a herd of sheep in the vicinity of German shepherds.
And since the midfield is choked for space and time, the ball movement isn’t fluid—rendering the impact of both Cristiano and Bale almost useless. The strength of these two players is speed and they thrive when they run at the ball, something that can be achieved only with good service.
Seeing as how Cristiano can no longer dribble and that Bale’s dribbling style makes him best for the left-flank (but he plays in the middle), they suffer a lot without the proper service.
Unlucky with injuries leading to shaky defense
Real Madrid’s rearguard was as tight as the mouths of Mexican cartel members in front of the police, but that was during the beginning of the season. Now, however, it is a completely different story.
From Keylor Navas being just 4 minutes away from breaking the record of the most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal to letting in 4 against Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu—Real Madrid’s defense has suffered from way too many injuries, leading to an erratic number of changes in the back four.
This meant an apparent lack of communication. Defending is not done by an individual; it is an art practiced and mastered as a unit. So, without proper understanding, the back line of a team is as strong as a house made of snow under the Sun.
At one point in the season, all the 4 first-choice defenders were out injured and Benitez had to play with a backline of Vazquez, Pepe, Nacho and Arbeloa. The constant shuffling has hurt the Blancos and in matches where their midfield doesn’t show up, it becomes, even more, apparent.
Benitez has to use the January window wisely
The Galacticos may be renowned for their extravagance during the summer transfer market, spending millions of Euros bring in the hottest talents, but they aren’t really the type of club that spends big during the winter.
However, this has to change this time. With the apparent lack of depth in midfield and defense, Real Madrid must change their policy and sign at least two players in this window.
First of all, a midfielder is a must. Rumours link the club to Miralem Pjanic and while the Roma player is an exceptionally talented playmaker, he is exactly the player they do not need. They are already filled with midfielders with flair and adding another one would just be a waste of resources.
What Benitez must look for in the market is a midfielder who can guard the defense. Right now, he is asking Kroos to do the job and one can sense that this is the reason why the German has been subpar this season so far.
Quality holding midfielders are a rarity these days, but they are not entirely extinct. With Real Madrid’s financial muscle, they can bring in just about anyone to fill up the gap. A midfielder in the Matic mould would be the ideal signing for the Madrid club.
In defense, Real Madrid already purchased young Jesus Vallejo in the summer but kept him at Zaragoza for a year loan deal. He is one supremely talented defender, but perhaps too young to play for the first team just yet.
With Pepe aging, Varane and Ramos’ constant injury problems, the club should look in the market for an experienced defender to challenge for a berth in the first team. In the past, names like Leonardo Bonucci and Ezequiel Garay were linked to the greatest club of the 20th century and, in an ideal world, they would be perfect signings.
Who they sign is not the main factor, it is what they sign. For years, Real Madrid have been signing big name players who were more luxury signings than genuine needs. And the tradition still lives.
But with the axe circling over the head of Rafa Benitez, he needs to make the best use of the January transfer window to salvage anything from his time at the club, which isn’t likely to go over a year if things don’t change drastically.