With Real Madrid losing on Sunday it hasn't taken the press long to react to the defeat. A feature in Marca was particularly critical of Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale and bordered on being personal as opposed to being constructive. It seemed as though all the good stuff produced over the last few months had been forgotten. Sergio Ramos attempted to restore some balance to the situation after the game when he said that he was hurt because the three points had been lost and the defeat ended the winning streak. Ancelotti himself said that it was a defeat that had to come sooner or later; but to read some of the comments in the media you would have thought that Madrid had just been relegated.
Ronaldo himself has taken a lot of criticism in the press. For a player who is favourite for the Ballon d'Or, the particular article in Marca did him no favours whatsoever and said that CR7's game is 'all about me, me, and me for Ronaldo' and if not he has a tantrum'. The tone of the blog questioned the commitment shown to the team. I don't think though that there will be many true Real fans who would seriously call into question Ronaldo's commitment to Madrid; especially when he is so often linked in the press with other clubs to whom he has no intention of even considering - never mind actually talking to. It's one thing having a bad game and then accepting the anticipated criticism that generally follows; but just because Madrid lost in Valencia doesn't automatically mean that everyone who played at the Mestalla had a bad game. With Madrid's successes already this season (World Club Champions, Super-Cup winners, and current league leaders having put together a run of twenty-odd games without defeat) you would have expected any criticism after Sunday's match to have been a bit more constructive as opposed to descending to a personal level.
After all, Ronaldo did score from a penalty; coolly sending the ball past Alves despite an attempt by the goalkeeper to psyche him up by whispering in his ear as he placed the ball on the penalty spot.
The same could be said of criticism directed at Karim Benzema; whose effectiveness was called into question after Sunday with direct reference being made to his work when the ball had been lost by Madrid in attacking situations. 'If there's nothing dainty that needs doing, you can forget him' said the blog. Yet it is a fact of footballing life that every player is different and Benzema's strengths lie in his appetite for goal and his undoubted willingness to show himself as a target-man for any passes or as a support player for his colleagues. It is very easy to pick on the front players when the team loses but that doesn't mean they are bad players or worse still 'lazy' players. Sometimes the ball just won't go in. Yet the important thing for the strikers is to make sure that they regularly get into goalscoring positions and repeatedly make themselves available to others. Time and time again Benzema has played the target man, taking a battering from defenders while holding the ball up until the support arrived; often foraging alone while at the same time working to get himself into goalscoring positions as the play progresses. It can be the support work that is the most essential aspect in open play.
Gareth Bale's athletic abilities have certainly been noticed since joining Madrid from Tottenham and nobody including Barca fans are ever likely to forget that run in the final leading to the goal. However on Sunday his decision-making led to serious criticism in the press with comments again being made suggesting that all Bale can do is run. The incident drawing most of the criticism was when he failed to put Benzema through on goal, electing himself to 'go it alone' as it were, which turned out to be the wrong decision on the day. That, however, doesn't make Gareth Bale a bad player; it just means that he made the wrong call at the time - which happens to the best of us in every walk of life - and this will have been addressed afterwards behind the scenes.
On-field remonstrations from Ronaldo and Benzema are normal, understandable, and part of the game with no personal malice intended nor offence taken. Professional disagreements happen all the time and it is no different on the football field to anywhere else. There was a similar situation a couple of seasons ago involving Gonzalo Higuain, who was himself not noted to be a player content to pass the ball to team-mates in better scoring positions than himself. However, as with Sunday, this was addressed behind the scenes although much was made of Ronaldo's on-field reactions at that time as well.
Admittedly, Karim Benzema didn't do himself any favours with his recent skydiving exploits in Dubai, gaining some negative publicity in the process but in truth he probably didn't see the harm in it at the time. Footballers are not allowed to take part in high-risk activities due to insurance exclusions on the policies the clubs take out in case of injury so this is hardly unexpected in Benzema's case. Most insurers require specific details of high-risk activities for anyone before insuring; professional players are generally banned from sports such as kitesurfing and motor-cycling, and parachuting certainly falls into the high-risk category! The management team won't have been too happy with that but again this will have been properly addressed in private and it certainly doesn't make him a bad professional.
As always, Sergio Ramos provided a sense of perspective after the Valencia game which sums up the feeling within this current Real Madrid squad. Speaking to Marca, he pointed out that 'we hadn't won the league before that (Valencia) game and we haven't lost it after it. This squad is categorised by it's humility and it's work ethiic and our great run of results hasn't changed that. If anything, it has made us stronger. We're definitely going to continue improving'.
Football doesn't often allow anyone the time to sit back and bask on previous successes nor to reflect in defeat either. With Atletico the next opponents in the Copa del Rey the opportunity exists to get back on track and silence the critics. Teams who are used to winning are often at their most dangerous after a defeat and the Atletico cup-tie provides the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways.