For Real Madrid CF, success is encrypted in their DNA. This is a football club that has won the most number of European Cups, the most La Liga titles and is the official “Club of the 20th Century”.
In fact, Real has been treated almost like an empire. At Real Madrid, they don’t hope; they expect. And when failure to match that lofty level expectation goes spiraling out of control, eccentricity and desperate measures steal in.
You would hardly discern a club axing its manager a few days after winning domestic honours, but at Real Madrid, that's what they do.
The modestly-acclaimed Bernd Schuster was imported into the set-up in the summer at the expense of the unparalleled Fabio Capello, who was guilty of “wining ugly”. Schuster is supposed to be the Messiah who restores the enthralling, out-of-the-world football of the Galactico era.
On the evidence of the first three or four matches in the new Spanish season, it did appear that the German would finally be able to turn the corner and gift the starving Madridistas their deserved dose of entertaining football. Indeed after last season’s gruesome and often faulty Capelloism, the Bernabeu faithful were eager to embrace anything that was even remotely compelling
But now the whispers of resentment are starting to gather momentum, just as last time around. Saturday’s loss to Espanyol, while disappointing, was not a surprise for all fans.
Indeed, some saw it as as a continuation of a string of poor, hanging-on performances that Real have been displaying of late. Schuster might be able to escape by the skin of his teeth this time, with the excuse of most of his major stars returning exhausted from a one-and-a-half week grueling international duty, but that won’t cut ice in the long run.
Time To Improve
At the start of the season, Real Madrid were playing the best football in Spain. After a lackluster pre-season, which was miles shy of inspiring, Real seemed to have clicked into top gear.
They might have required an 80th minute deflected goal to get the better of cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid on the opening day of the new season but there was no doubt as to who was boss when they traveled to Villarreal next weekend.
Kindled by a Wesley Sneijder masterclass of midfield creativity and vision, los Merengues ripped apart Manuel Pellegrini’s promising side 5-0 and scripting themselves into every Spanish newspapers as the likeliest winners of this season’s Spanish championship. Real then managed to win their next 4 matches out of 5 before Saturday’s 2-1 slump to Espanyol at the Olympic de Montijuc.
But there’s no sidelining the stark, naked truth that their style has been gradually dipping its nose. If the 2-0 victory over relegation-threatened Real Betis at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu illustrated the age-old principle of clutching at the straws until the final whistle, then the narrow 1-0 win over Schuster’s former club Getafe was a farce in so much that Real came out unscathed Hollywood-style from a barrage of Geta onslaught: they didn't deserve to win at all.
Saturday’s defeat to an increasingly-improving Espanyol side, while not a huge shock, still comes as a smack in the face for Real. This is their first defeat of the season and was underlined by a lack of imagination throughout the match.
A disoriented Real team might have been decent in the first 45 minutes on Saturday, but they failed to take the game to Espanyol after the breather, when they clearly were the second best team in the match.
Yet in spite of the defeat, Real still retain that often ill-fated favourites’ tag. FC Barcelona might have superbly recovered from very, very early season blues, riding on the wave of a wildly rampant Lionel Messi, but the truth is Real Madrid have more depth in their squad than their main challengers Barca do.
Real splashed out heavily during the summer transfer circus like a child with a blank cheque in a toyshop, pocketing the likes of Christoph Metzelder, Javier Saviola, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, among others.
More star names inevitably enforce squad rotation and at the heart of Real’s smothered football is this numerical abundance that is actually inhibiting the smooth settling down of the players.
Till the last match of the season last year, Fabio Capello could never settle on a regular first string and Schuster is moving pretty much toeing the same line.
His basic formation of 4-4-2 has been kept consistent, with a flat back four screened by the anchorman Diarra, furthered by the presence of a creative central midfielder and two wingers supplying the two strikers upfront, but the personnel have been rotated far too much for anyone’s liking.
And it is in this particular quarter that Real have to change their strategy.
With Raul revealing his vintage touch from time to time, reinvented Guti starting regularly, Arjen Robben dribbling ferociously down the flanks and Sneijder pulling the strings from the midfield, the signs are very good. What Schuster needs to do this stage is decide on his first choice players and proceed accordingly - injuries allowing, of course.
It would be naïve to call the curtains on Real at his point of the title race but with the notorious Real Madrid supporters starting to voice their disgruntlement, Schuster needs to comprehend that Real Madrid need to improve and improve quickly.