It’s a story Real Madrid fans are more than familiar with. Heading into March, Los Blancos find their hopes for domestic silverware this season in tatters after two damaging clasico defeats to arch-rivals Barcelona. In the space of four days they exited the Copa del Rey and effectively saw any lingering title hopes end with home losses against Barcelona.
However again they have the chance to salvage their season by winning the competition that had come to define them as a club even before this remarkable period where they have enjoyed so much success on the continent. They are aiming to make it 5 Champions League wins in 6 seasons this term. They may need to if Santi Solari is to stand any chance of being in the Bernabeu hotseat in six months time but it will be tougher than ever this year and the bookies view PSG, Man City and Barcelona to all have a greater chance of lifting the trophy.
What has gone wrong for Real Madrid this season?
Real Madrid are a club that seems to go through at least one ‘crisis’ every season but they usually pull through to challenge for major silverware. This season has certainly been no exception and their problems go far beyond the glaringly obvious fact that losing Cristiano Ronaldo last summer was a huge blow.
Los Blancos were by no means a one-man team though as they reeled off three straight Champions League wins. They had a remarkable eight nominees for the 2018 Ballon d’Or with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Thibaut Courtois, Isco, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, and Raphael Varane all up for the award. However of those players, far too many have had poor seasons. Bale, Marcelo and Isco have all had their worst campaigns in a Real Madrid shirt and currently find themselves out of the first-choice eleven as a result. There was perhaps a slight World Cup hangover for some and it certainly took eventual Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric until January to properly get going this term.
The managerial instability hasn’t helped with Real failing to land their top targets leaving them with first Julen Lopetegui and now Santi Solari, neither of whom seems to really have the full support of the board. The quality of their play has improved over the past couple of months with the emergence of Vinicius, a big reason for that but they have been nowhere near clinical enough in front of goal. Their failure to purchase a striker in January already looks a costly error, particularly with former whites Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain having both been available.
Real Madrid’s 🇪🇸 last 3 Champions League matches without Sergio Ramos in the starting XI
3-1 home loss to Juventus 🇮🇹 ❌
1-0 loss away to CSKA 🇷🇺 ❌
3-0 home loss to CSKA 🇷🇺 ❌
He misses tomorrow’s 2nd leg with Ajax 🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/8Z18JgnfHw
— SmartSoccer (@SmartSoccerStat) March 4, 2019
Next up for Real Madrid is a home game against Ajax in the Champions League this Tuesday. They rode their luck at times in the 1st Leg, with a hungry young Ajax side impressing and at times bossing the game. However as they invariably do in this competition, Los Blancos found a way and returned to the Spanish capital with a 2-1 advantage.
In any other season, you’d say it would be a foregone conclusion that Real Madrid now advance. However they do have to be a bit wary of a talented side that will feel they have nothing to lose now. Frenkie de Jong, who joins Barcelona this summer, will certainly be keen to impress and may be in for a frosty welcome from the Bernabeu crowd. The Dutch midfielder features in our Champions League betting specials for this week’s action.
Having lost their last 3 home games in all competitions, Real Madrid need a response and they will back themselves to book their Quarter-Final place.
The big decisions Solari must make
Gareth Bale isn’t in the good books with the Real Madrid fans 😤 pic.twitter.com/XN0jgfm1n4
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) March 4, 2019
The two clasico meetings last week were pretty even games on balance with Real Madrid creating far more openings in the first one despite sinking to a 3-0 defeat. Essentially they were dealt a bit of a finishing masterclass by Barca and Solari may have to mix things up in the final third if he is going to have any chance of ending this season on a positive note.
Lucas Vazquez, Karim Benzema and Vinicius all bring something to the party and may largely be able to reflect on good season. However they are simply not clinical enough in front of goal as a collective and only when Benzema was on a relatively rare hot streak at the start of this year, did it really look a viable solution. Gareth Bale has been poor by his standards and cuts an increasingly ostracised figure at the Bernabeu, which seems to have finally lost all patience with the Welshman.
Bringing him in and out of the side isn’t doing anyone any favours. Bale though is the one man, who at his best can get close to replicating what Cristiano Ronaldo offered Real Madrid. Solari may simply just have to decide to fully put his faith in Bale and give him a proper run of games in the hope that he can rediscover his form.
Solari has already proved himself to be prepared to make big decisions and the selections of Vinicius and Sergio Reguilón have proved inspired moves. However now may be the time to put any personal grudges to one side and try to properly reintegrate the likes of Bale and Isco into this side. Having players of such quality on the fringes and at times visibly unhappy has certainly not helped matters in this turbulent season.
Can Los Blancos make it 4 in a row without Ronaldo?
Cristiano Ronaldo becomes first player in the Champions League era to lift the trophy five times:
07/08: 🏆Man Utd
13/14: 🏆Real Madrid
15/16: 🏆Real Madrid
16/17: 🏆Real Madrid
17/18: 🏆Real Madrid pic.twitter.com/AfxQjJiEyH
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) May 27, 2018
Unquestionably, Real Madrid’s chances of winning the Champions League this year are less than they have been in any of their recent successes in the competition. However it would still be just like Real to clinch European glory despite a miserable domestic campaign. They did just that last term despite being 17 points off the pace in La Liga. Indeed only 3 of their previous 13 European crowns have come in seasons when they’ve also won La Liga. Only once since 1958 have they won both in the same season.
Defeat in the league clasico on Saturday effectively ends their league title pursuit so they can now literally put all their eggs in one basket, a luxury that certainly the English clubs are in no position to do while Atletico Madrid are capable of at least pushing Barcelona in La Liga, which does give Los Blancos an advantage on most of their main European rivals.
The true test will come when they find themselves in a tight spot in the Quarter-Finals or Semi-Finals when they are likely to be up against elite opposition. In the past they have always been able to rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to produce something at moments like that. They will need their other stars to really stand up in a way they rarely have done so far this season, if there is to be any repeat. A Final in Madrid at the home of their city rivals is certainly an extra motivating factor. However on current form at least, it’s hard to see Los Blancos extending their winning streak in the competition this year.