THIS CAN’T BE REAL

Madrid’s woes con­tinue as late For­nals strike hands Vil­lar­real their first-ever vic­tory at the Bern­abeu

Sport360 - - Front Page - Foot­ball with Andy West @andy­west01 ed­i­to­rial@sport360.com

Real Madrid’s poor form con­tin­ued with another unin­spir­ing per­for­mance as the Span­ish gi­ants fell to Vil­lar­real last night.

De­spite cre­at­ing sev­eral chances, Madrid failed to con­vert and were blanked, while Vil­lar­real stole vic­tory with a counter-at­tack that ul­ti­mately led to a beau­ti­ful fin­ish by Pablo For­nals in the 87th minute.

Here, we look at three talk­ing points from the game and delve deeper into the con­cern­ing ques­tions fac­ing Madrid.

Zidane liv­ing on bor­rowed time

The un­com­fort­able truth fac­ing Zine­dine Zidane as he di­gests his team’s latest set­back is that any­body else would prob­a­bly have been fired by now.

A first half of the sea­son yield­ing just 32 points – closer to the rel­e­ga­tion zone than first place if league lead­ers Barcelona win at Real So­ciedad tonight – is sim­ply un­ac­cept­able at this uniquely de­mand­ing club, whose pres­i­dent Florentino Perez dis­pensed with Vi­cente del Bosque and Fabio Capello im­me­di­ately af­ter they won the league ti­tle.

Zidane gained an un­usual amount of credit not only by win­ning the La Liga and Champions League dou­ble last sea­son, but also with an out­stand­ing play­ing ca­reer to make him­self as close to un­touch­able as any­one at the Bern­abeu pos­si­bly could be. But even Zidane’s time will run out even­tu­ally, and it’s hard to see the French­man last­ing un­til the end of the sea­son if his team is knocked out of the Champions League by Paris Saint-Ger­main next month.

The end could come even sooner than that if Perez be­lieves his club’s Euro­pean dreams can only be saved by a new man at the helm, and Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino may be re­ceiv­ing a phone call in the next few days.

Scor­ing prob­lems haunt Los Blan­cos

This wasn’t a par­tic­u­larly bad per­for­mance from Real Madrid. Their at­ti­tude cer­tainly can’t be re­proached af­ter they played with fo­cus and in­ten­sity, and there was a gen­er­ally solid look to the team as two play­ers who have been sin­gled out for crit­i­cism – Casemiro and Marcelo – re­turned closer to their usual stan­dards.

The fact that Vil­lar­real hardly cre­ated any chances speaks for it­self, and although Madrid were caught out badly on the coun­ter­at­tack for the win­ning goal that could hap­pen to any team chas­ing a late win­ner.

But the prob­lem for Madrid, without doubt, is a lack of fire­power in front of goal. Con­sid­er­ing the pres­ence of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, one of the most po­tent goalscor­ers in the game’s his­tory, that’s some­thing of a sur­prise, but the Por­tuguese star is con­tin­u­ing to mis­fire by snatch­ing at chances and lack­ing his usual ruth­less ar­ro­gance in front of goal.

At least Ron­aldo looks like scor­ing, though. No­body else got into dan­ger­ous po­si­tions of­ten enough to threaten Vil­lar­real keeper Ser­gio Asenjo, whose best save came from a 25-yard piledriver from Marcelo.

With the Jan­uary win­dow still open for a cou­ple of weeks, Madrid could badly use a goalscorer to give more sup­port to Ron­aldo…per­haps while Perez is call­ing Po­chet­tino, he might like a word with Harry Kane as well?

Vil­lar­real show La Liga’s depth

In the eter­nal de­bate over the re­spec­tive qual­ity of the Premier League and La Liga, the ac­cu­sa­tion is of­ten made that the Span­ish com­pe­ti­tion is a ‘two team league’ with only Barcelona and Real Madrid worth watch­ing.

That ar­gu­ment over­looks the fact that Atletico Madrid won the com­pe­ti­tion three years ago, and more re­cently that this sea­son Real have dropped points against Real Betis, Girona, Le­vante, Celta Vigo, Ath­letic Bil­bao and now Vil­lar­real – ex­actly the kind of teams snot­tily de­cried by those who be­lieve English foot­ball is the only va­ri­ety worth watch­ing.

Vil­lar­real, as they showed last night, are a very good team. In Pablo For­nals (left) and Ro­dri, they boast two of Spain’s best young mid­field­ers who would al­ready be starters for many in­ter­na­tional teams, while Car­los Bacca re­mains an out­stand­ing cen­tre for­ward (the kind Madrid could do with right now) and Asenjo is an ex­cel­lent shot-stop­per who en­joyed a re­demp­tive af­ter­noon by mak­ing sev­eral great saves in his first game at the Bern­abeu since suf­fer­ing a long-term knee in­jury against the same op­po­si­tion last sea­son.

This way Madrid are be­ing pun­ished for their dip in form makes it clear: there is plenty of qual­ity in La Liga away from the ‘big two’, if you can be both­ered to look.

Off his game: Ron­aldo had a frus­trat­ing night against Vil­lar­real

Rain on his pa­rade: Zine­dine Zidane is in the hot seat as Real Madrid have fallen out of the La Liga race.

Zidane’s time will run out even­tu­ally, and it’s hard to see the French­man last­ing un­til the end of the sea­son if his team is knocked out of the Champions League by Paris Sain­tGer­man next month

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