It has been a very eventful three years for Real Madrid, from winning the UEFA Champions League consecutively to winning the Spanish League trophy, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup, and World Club Cup. The Spanish champions have dominated Europe since Zinedine Zidane was appointed the manager in Jan. 2016.
The most profound achievement for the Galacticos was breaking the Champions League curse; no team has been able to retain the trophy until Madrid did it. However like the law of gravity, “what goes up must come down.” The Spanish side have struggled this season to replicate the form that conquered Europe last season.
This dip in form is more worrisome because their best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, has struggled in front of goal, especially in the League. With a conversion rate of two and a half percent, the best player in the world echoes the problems plaguing the team. Neutrals may find this decline disturbing, but manager Zinedine Zidane, after the loss to Tottenham Hotspurs in Wembley stadium by 3-1, has insisted, “In terms of the opposition, we came up against the better team, in all aspects they were superior. But in general, I’m not worried about lack of goals.”
Madrid has lost their last two matches by 2-1 to Girona in the domestic league and 3-1 to Spurs in the Champions League. The Galacticos are 8 points behind league leaders and fierce rivals Barcelona and look to ending this season without any trophies. However, this decline is not strange in European football. In fact, it was expected last season. But Madrid managed to do the double, winning the domestic and Champions League trophies. Playing consistently at the top level of football is highly demanding mentally and physically.
The burden to remain consistent has been the challenge for every successful team in Europe. The average age of the Spanish side is 26, with veterans such as Sergio Ramos (31), Modric (32), Marcelo (29), Benzema (29), Bale (28), and Cristiano (32). Real Madrid has also added some younger players to the team to retain some balance. The number of older, more experienced players does not overwhelm the younger players in Real Madrid. Madrid has also included young talents like Ascensio (21), Isco (25), and Achraf (19) to the first team.
On paper, there is no justification for the decline in the performance of the Galacticos, but the best teams in the world have experienced this. Flashback to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona; after winning the treble — the Copa del Rey, domestic League, and UEFA Champions League, in 2009 — the team began to slump. This led to the departure of Guardiola from Barcelona to Bayern Munich in 2013. Barcelona also experienced this in 2015 after winning the treble for the second time under the management of Luis Enrique. Real Madrid’s dominance in Europe over the past four years followed this decline of their bitter rivals, with Cristiano clinching the Ballon d’Or twice and the FIFA best player award twice ahead of Leo Messi.
The possibility of Real Madrid getting back to their best is bleak; right now the best they can hope for is damage control. Madrid just needs a point from their last two matches to qualify for the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League. But they will be hoping Spurs drop points and they win their last two to avoid meeting a stronger side in the knock-outs. Credit to Tottenham Hotspurs and their improvement in the last four years. They are beginning to look like a top European side with their current form. Incidentally, the Tottenham manager is favorite to replace Zidane at Real Madrid.
[Featured Image by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images]