Thursday, 28 February 2008

Fateful February

The numbers for the month of February speak for themselves: Played 5, Won 1, Lost 4. The situation has deteriorated so much that even the previously impregnable Santiago Bernabéu stadium no longer guarantees victory. Jarek Berga, over at American Madridistas, argues that this is a case of luck evening out over the course of a season. In other words, the first half of the championship has seen Real Madrid grind out wins where perhaps they did not "deserve" them; where their effectiveness in front of goal meant that they could be outplayed for most of the game and still come away with the three points. There is an element of truth in this, of course, but, from a statistical perspective, four losses in five games is somewhat of an aberration; we should be able to identify more immediate reasons for the slump.

Talk of "crisis" has begun to feature prominently in the media, particularly following the comical way in which Getafe scored against Real last weekend. With the greater part of the squad celebrating a "goal" by Robben by the corner flag, only Guti and Heinze noticed the linesman's outstretched arm signalling for offside. A quick counter by Getafe saw these two, plus Casillas, facing four players from the visiting side. the outcome was never in doubt, and Uche coolly slotted the winner home. Real never looked like equalising, much less winning the game, so what's happened?

A slew of injuries to Real Madrid defenders over the past couple of months have been discussed on this blog on a number of occassions. To some extent, this has been the case all season, with Schuster rarely using the same back four three games running. Also, Casillas is no longer playing the saviour role since his unbeaten run was broken. A potential piece of good news on this front is the likely return from injury of Pepe against Recreativo next Saturday, assuming he can regain the form that helped to shore up the centre of defence earlier in the season.

Another player likely to return from injury is the much-missed Robinho. Some have pointed to his absence as a factor in Real's misfortunes, but I think that, from a technical perspective, this is largely not the case. The loss of Robinho has coincided with the return of Arjen Robben, who has given Real much needed width and pace in attack. In fact, during February, Real has managed an average of sixteen shots on goal per game, rather more than in the earlier part of the season.

And so, it seems, a lot of Real's troubles must therefore stem from an inability to put those chances away. I think this is more than simple statistics or luck evening out and is likely to have a psychological component. All strikers suffer from periods of plenty and periods of drought and both Raúl and especially Van Nistelrooy seem to be in the middle of one. Nobody else is picking up the slack, and this is where I think Robinho could bring some much needed inspiration.

The other psychological element is that affecting the whole team. It's hard to bring yourselves out of a losing dynamic, particularly when you think you're doing all the right things and nothing seems to work. Bernd Schuster must put his psychologist's hat on and turn things around. I believe the next two games are crucial: beating Recreativo away and getting past Roma in the Champions League could be the tonic to put this campaign back on the rails.


Brian (Anon) said...

I certainly hope they can get past Roma, it would be frustrating if a champions league run was ruined by the round coming in the middle of the worst streak in Real's season.

Gonzalo said...

Hi Brian,

I don't think the Roma tie is a done deal. They seem to have improved their recenet Serie A performances, and Real still looks shaky at the back, plus we will be missing Sergio Ramos, which probably means Salgado at right back.