Real Madrid isn't a club used to losing back-to-back games, especially when it comes to crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid, rivals which Real Madrid enjoyed a heavy one-sided advantage over up until recent times. Having collapsed in the second half of the first leg of the Copa Del Rey tie, Real Madrid must now reassess the state of the team and quickly as they have very little time to lick their wounds before a meeting with Espanyol this weekend.
Four takeaways from the 2-0 defeat
1. Atletico is deep and Atletico is talented. If many of us are being honest with ourselves, we'll admit that we're still waiting for Atleti to fall back down to earth and that this can't possibly keep up given their history in the last decade or so... right? This train of thought needs to end right away. They don't have flashy names or pretty faces, but this is the most cohesive, disciplined squad on earth and their mentality of "next man up" is something to be admired. Miranda goes down with injury? Enter the excellent Jose Gimenez. Filipe Luis leaves and Guillherme Siquiera sits? Enter the unflappable Lucas Hernandez. Their dedication to the system and the mentality Cholo has imparted on them erases any talent deficit they might come across. It's tough to swallow and we may not enjoy the brand of football they play, but praise must be given and a way to counter their tactics has to be on the top of Carlo Ancelotti's priorities.
2. Real Madrid are still too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. Out of Madrid's five losses this season, three of them have come with him out of the starting lineup and the most recent loss featuring him, Valencia, showed that when the man is misfiring others around him still have issues with picking up the slack. Of course, the Copa Del Rey final last season shows that it's not an impossible task to win without him, but when there's an 18 league goal differential between him and the number two scorer on the team (Karim Benzema), it speaks just as much about the team's reliance on him as it does to his excellence this season. Someone else HAS to step up.
3. The last two scorelines are deceiving. Yes, a loss is a loss and moral victories will never win you a trophy. However, one can make a strong case that individual mistakes, rather systemic ones, were Real Madrid's downfall in the last two matches. Pepe's deflection, Bale's decision on goal, Sergio Ramos' bone-headed penalty; all three unfortunate individual acts which brought down the whole. If you look at the chances that Real madrid has created in the two losses such as Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema's fluffed shots on goal against Valencia, Ramos' header against Atleti and Bale's offside goal, you'll see that despite the penetration difficulties this team is still making opportunities for themselves. They could stand to increase that number of chances, but at least they're not completely bereft of chances.
4. Something fresh needs to happen against Espanyol. Maybe it's starting Fabio Coentrao, Asier Illarramendi, Jese or Javier Hernandez. Maybe it's swapping flanks for the wide attackers. Maybe it's a tweak to the team's shape. Something, anything. We're far from crisis mode (that word gets thrown around too loosely) but it's clear that this team has his a min-ceiling in recent times and an injection of energy is needed, especially in front of a home crowd that should hopefully be there to rally behind the players against a decent Espanyol side capable of putting up a fight. Real Madrid is very much a momentum-based side so getting off to a fast start against Espanyol and hopefully securing a win should get them on the right track for the second leg against Atleti next week.