Who is to blame for Real Madrid's mess this season?
La Liga Loca has been patrolling the Real Madrid beat now for so long, giving a clip around the ear to wee urchins and offering directions to lost souls, that it understands there are only two types of story to be told about the club. Unless it was under the Ramon Calderón's reign. Then there were about a billion a day.
Everything is either completely brill for the team, or an utter disaster, with the Santiago Bernabéu akin to the scene in Airplane when the passengers are informed that the coffee has run out.
One must say “more or less”, as last season was a peculiar campaign in so much that the team was largely brilliant in the Champions League and a colossal disaster in La Liga. After all, they lost out to reigning champions Atlético Madrid! Atlético Madrid! Write those words a year ago, and everyone would have assumed that meddling aliens had rewritten history and moved the planet off its correct path to oblivion in 2323 on a damp Tuesday in February.
This particular Tuesday in September where it is probably damp somewhere, sees Madrid in their 18th crisis of the past 14 months by LLL’s calculations. A Spanish Supercup final has been lost, as was a two-goal lead against Real Sociedad and a home match against Atlético. Again.
Matters are so bad that Carlo Ancelotti’s side are only just above Getafe on goal difference. Indeed, the team have the joint-worst defence in the division with six goals conceded, the same as Elche and Espanyol.
Tuesday’s Champions League clash will not be as much as a referendum as a league game would have been. The clientele is a little more enthusiastic than those who frequent the stadium for clashes in La Primera. However, that is not to say there won't be natters of discontent as Real Madrid struggle to break down a stubborn Basel back-line after an industrious but fruitless opening 10 minutes. These will be the three main targets for everyone’s ire.
The jowly jawed, grumpy old goat is the standout target, as clearly he is not the hands off, leave-to-the-sporting-director-and-manager-to-fix-the-team’s-affairs type. Florentino is the “Shiny! Pretty! Shirts! Latin American market! Boy band looks! Who needs defenders!” man of old and that is why El Presidente is just so much fun and should stick around forever and ever and ever.
Detractors will say - and Angel Di María himself - that he drove away the all-important Argentine, only to be replaced by an unnecessary Colombian in the form of James Rodríguez. Other crimes will include insisting that Iker Casillas be returned in goal and failing to keep Xabi Alonso, thus ensuring Ancelotti’s nicely balanced team was torn apart. “The president should be sacking the one responsible for letting Alonso and Di María go,” writes Santi Nolla in Sport, “but he is called Florentino.”
But perhaps much of that is unfair. Alonso is no spring chicken and was rumoured to be on the lookout for a final fling for some time. Di María was a pest who was holding the club to ransom with his wage demands, while there's nothing wrong with freshening up the attack with a player like James, who is one of the most talented around. Well, he was two months ago.
The back-line has been largely untouched, so why is it that Real Madrid still can't defend corners and set-pieces and give up the ghost after half an hour? Why, why, why? LLL does not have the answers but Ancelotti will argue that his players and one particular goalkeeper do.
After all, if one’s charges spend hours going through drills and what-not on how to defend corners, and then they themselves blame a lack of concentration, there is not much more any manager can do, aside from fitting shock collars to his players to enforce a zonal marking system.
To be fair, the Real Madrid goalkeeper has nothing to do with transfer sales or organisation, aside from sloppiness at corners - according to Ancelotti - but the club captain is bearing the brunt of the blame from a lot of Real Madrid supporters. Including one particular turncoat newspaper.
“Problem Number One” wrote a harsh Marca on Monday with a special stomp on Casillas, advising that a swap with Keylor Navas might be advisable for Ancelotti to give a little bit of stability to the defence and calm the nerves of the fans who are suffering from hypertension, writes Roberto Palomar in the same paper. “It is the way things are in the house where Florentino Pérez resides. Everything can be bought, everything is for sale, what was valuable is worth nothing now.”
This Marca man, for one, seems to see that the problems lie with the big cheese at the top. He is not the only one to feel this way, as the pressure cooker of Real Madrid life is turned up a notch on Tuesday in the Champions League.