They are too old. They do not have any depth. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are over the hill. These are all axioms we have heard over the years with regard to Real Madrid.
Year after year, Real Madrid continues to prove doubters wrong, winning back-to-back Champions League titles between 2015 and 2017. Last year, the team notched a rare treble by winning the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa del Rey. However, things at the Bernabeu this season could not be more different.
Eleven matchdays into the season, Los Blancos sit third in the Champions League — only behind Barcelona and Valencia — and show no signs of being the team that dominated European soccer for the past five years.
While there are justifiable excuses for Madrid’s slow start — namely injuries to Gareth Bale and Marcelo — there is no excuse for Ronaldo to have only one goal in seven La Liga games. Of course, the great CR7 has stepped up in the Champions League to the tune of six goals in four games. Even then, las Madridistas fell to Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League 3-1.
Though age is certainly a fair reason to take it easy and rest players — like manager Zinedine Zidane has done — it is no justification to put up results like a 2-1 loss to recently promoted Girona. In truth, even the younger Madrid players have been sluggish at best. They are routinely missing runs from opposing forwards and failing to finish on goal.
Another excuse that hardly correlates is that Madrid simply chooses when to perform. Yet this does not explain why the team came up short at iconic Wembley Stadium against Tottenham. Rather than choosing when and where to deliver their best performances, Los Blancos are falling back to earth. Years of clinical, world-class play surely must come to an end, and Madrid is seemingly doing everything wrong this year.
In the transfer window, the club let go of Alvaro Morata and Danilo as well as James Rodriguez, players who contributed greatly to Madrid’s 16-17 treble. It is unusual to think that such a successful club could have erred so greatly in the transfer window but the results speak for themselves. Without Marcelo and Bale, and without an in-form Ronaldo, the reigning European champions are a weakened side.
Of course they still have world-class midfielders Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro, but even their skills cannot account for the fact that Benzema routinely misses absolute sitters. The finishing of Madrid forwards leaves much to be desired, but more than that, they are attacking with toothless direction and playing the ball in their own half more often than not.
With much of the season left, it is easy to dismiss this slow start and reference Madrid’s ability to bounce back. Last season, they finished second in their Champions League group before storming through every opponent in the knockout stages.
Still, it is hard not to be concerned about the world’s most famous club. Ronaldo, as impressive as he is, has just turned 32 and has been playing professional soccer year-round since he was 17. It is, again, not unthinkable to fathom that he might finally be over the hill.
Then again, Ronaldo has a track record of bouncing back, just like Madrid. And perhaps they will.
The only question this time is if their bounce-back ability puts them on the level of teams who have something to prove. And it is in these teams that we look for the next Madrid of the beautiful game because, even in the case of Los Blancos, all dynasties are destined to end.
Vanessa Craige and Paolo Santamaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service and the College, respectively. “NOTHING BUT NET” appears every Friday.