The last time Real Madrid went three games without a goal was in January 2007 and at the end of the season, Fabio Capello was sacked. Few deficiencies irk the fans at the Santiago Bernabeu more than shyness in attack and after an encouraging start under Julen Lopetegui, Madrid has drifted off course.
Their 1-0 defeat by CSKA Moscow on Tuesday left them three games without a win, even if none of those were straight-forward, the previous two coming away to Sevilla and at home to Atletico Madrid. “The atmosphere in the dressing room is not good,” Luka Modric said. “When you do not score in three consecutive games, it is a bit of a worry.”
“We have full confidence in him, strikers go in streaks,” Lopetegui said. “Scoring is not the responsibility only of Benzema, it is for the whole team.”
In terms of position, the dip has barely made a scratch, with Madrid still level on points at the top of La Liga with the equally out of form Barcelona. In the Champions League, they sit third in Group G, behind CSKA and Roma, but with a pair of games against the weakest side, Viktoria Plzen, coming up next.
As they have proven in the last two seasons, group stage stumbles are easily corrected. But there is concern about the team’s bluntness up front, a complaint that instantly references Cristiano Ronaldo, the decision to sell and the failure to sign an elite replacement. “Sindrome Cristiano,” El Pais called it on Wednesday.
Madrid has scored four fewer goals than in their first two group games than last season, coincidentally the number Ronaldo had by then. “We cannot do anything, he decided to leave and we have to respect that,” Nacho said. “Cristiano set the bar very high,” Keylor Navas added. “You cannot cover the sun with your finger.”
Any team would miss Ronaldo’s sheer weight of goals – after all, he hit 30 for nine consecutive seasons – but it was only a fortnight ago his departure was being hailed as a boost to balance, unity, not to mention Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. Bale was left at home on Tuesday night, to shake off a thigh strain, but Benzema started and was supposed to assume the mantle. He was captain too as if to emphasize the point.
“Ten days ago we played a magnificent game against Roma,” he said. “We were not invincible then and we are not terrible now.”
Instead, the Frenchman delivered the sort of performance that has become all-too-familiar in recent years, high on effort, low on precision, and rushing those chances that fell to him. “We didn’t have that bit of luck you need,” Lopetegui said. Madrid did hit the woodwork three times.
There is a wave of fan support behind Mariano Diaz, the striker Real Madrid re-signed from Lyon in the summer, who began his career in the club’s C team. Mariano came off the bench and when he hit the post with a late header, it was not lost on some that he had leaped higher than Benzema, hoisting himself on and above his team-mate’s back.
After a bright start under Lopetegui, that included four goals in his first three league games, Benzema has gone six without any. “We have full confidence in him, strikers go in streaks,” Lopetegui said. “Scoring is not the responsibility only of Benzema, it is for the whole team.”
In that sense, Benzema was not offered the best of support. Lopetegui fielded a weakened line-up, with Bale allowed to recuperate, Sergio Ramos left at home and Modric starting on the bench. Isco and Marcelo, who also add attacking impetus, were missing injured. Madrid has three games before facing Barcelona at the Camp Nou on October 28, a match that is shaping up to be a battle of the beleaguered, although much could change before then.
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Alaves await on Saturday when Bale could return, before winnable matches at home to Levante and Plzen, for which Isco and Marcelo may both be back. Lopetegui will be hoping for some relief and goals. “Ten days ago we played a magnificent game against Roma,” he said. “We were not invincible then and we are not terrible now.”
© Agence France-Presse