What is wrong with Real Madrid this season?
Real Madrid won the double of the UEFA Champions League and La Liga last season, and started off this season by winning the UEFA Super Cup by defeating Manchester United and Spanish Super Cup by crushing their arch-rivals Barcelona. They are regarded as the best team in the world right now and rightly so.
However, they have had an indifferent start to this season. Real Madrid currently sit third on the La Liga table, 5 points off the top, and have surprisingly suffered against weaker oppositions at the Santiago Bernabeu, registering 2 draws and a loss to Real Betis at their home stadium in La Liga.
They also failed to win against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League, drawing 1-1 at Bernabeu.
So what has gone wrong? How a team which was looking unbeatable has suddenly started looking fragile. One thing that has struck the most is that they have been able to win all their games away from home this season but struggled at Bernabeu for various reasons.
One big reason for their slump is that they have been unable to finish off the chances that they have created. They have created the most number of chances in La Liga but have scored lesser goals than Barcelona, Valencia, Real Betis and Real Sociedad.
Benzema has missed quite a few chances and Ronaldo, after coming back from suspension, is yet to hit form in front of goal in La Liga, though he is the top goalscorer in the Champions League.
Real Madrid have missed someone like Morata coming off the bench, who was more direct than Benzema. They do have a backup striker in Mayoral, but his style of play is pretty much like Benzema's, and he is still in the initial stages of development. Real Madrid have missed that goal-scoring backup striker, a luxury that they enjoyed last season.
Another cause of concern is that they haven't been able to score goals from set-piece situations like they did last season. Real Madrid scored a lot of goals from set-pieces last season, but have been ineffective this season. Sergio Ramos, one of the most dangerous players from such situations, is yet to score a goal in La Liga this season.
Another problem that might be concerning Real Madrid is their defence. Real Madrid have conceded goals even when they have had control of the game and that points to a weak defensive organisation.
Zinedine Zidane has tried to make Real Madrid play free-flowing attacking football this season, giving his midfielders a free role, unlike last season where only Isco had a free role.
That is alright as Real Madrid right now possess the best midfield, but it needs to have a method to it. The problem is that as they move around freely, they leave spaces behind and if those spaces are not covered by others it leads to a blown up defensive cover.
The team becomes vulnerable defensively if it loses possession in those situations. It has been observed a lot of times this season, that a single pass through the middle has left the Real Madrid defence wide open. This is something Zidane should fix as the season progresses.
Real Madrid also have been unlucky at times this season, conceding goals that should not have stood, not being awarded penalties that they should have got, being denied by the woodwork on crucial junctures in the match, and suspensions to Ramos and Ronaldo that they didn't deserve. This has also played a part in their below-par start to the season.
As the season will progress, Real Madrid will overcome their sluggishness in front of the goal as they have great attacking players. However, they will continue to miss the services that Morata provided them with, last season, coming off the bench.
Real Madrid will need to work on their defensive structure, though, if they want to repeat the success that they had last season.
They will need to sort their problems quickly, and are expected to do so. Real Madrid still look to be in a strong position to challenge for all the titles they are competing for as they possess a ridiculous squad depth and have quality in every position.
They might have had a weak start to the season, but it is just a dip that most teams face during a season. The season is long and come the end of the season, you feel that Real Madrid would still be in a strong position to challenge and win titles to maintain the great run they seem to be enjoying as a club.