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What went wrong in Real Madrid's 1-1 draw against Villarreal?

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Sometimes trying too hard can be as bad as not trying hard enough. Against Villareal it certainly looked as if the front three were trying to force the play instead of letting the ball flow. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karen Benzema all went for the difficult option at times when a simple pass or even a more composed finish might have brought a better outcome.  It looked as though everyone was trying to score at the slightest opportunity when there were lots of alternative options to give the ball to someone in a better position.

However, when things are going badly on the pitch and the game is screaming out for someone to put his foot on the ball and show a bit of composure, it can be very difficult not to try too hard.  Players are frequently criticised in the media - either fairly or unfairly  - for doing the wrong thing; but in games like the Villareal match I think players feel that they must take the responsibility themselves for what happens and that's usually when moves start to break down in open play.  It often looks like the simplest pass becomes a cop-out, essentially because it is a simple pass and looks as though whoever makes that pass doesn't want to accept any responsibility; therefore they just don't make the pass.  In reality, however, that simple pass might be the best option at the time.

There was a good example of this towards end of the second half when Gareth Bale had the ball on the left just outside the Villareal box and could have either taken it to the goal-line and crossed himself or alternatively just put the ball into the box from where he was at the time.  In the end he did neither, and stroked the ball to Toni Kroos who crossed instead from only a few yards away.  The question is what would have been the correct option at that particular moment?  Should Bale have taken the ball himself and looked to get inside the box to play a low cross, or gone to goal-line to fire over yet another cross which would have been eaten up by the big Villareal defence?  Was the short five yard pass to Kroos made because the German was in a better position to cross the ball into the box, or was it because in the few seconds it took for Bale to weigh things up at that particular time, the Villareal defence had covered two of the options open to him and that the pass to Kroos then became the third and most viable option?  Or was Gareth Bale trying so hard not to make a mistake at that particular moment that the easiest option was just to make a simple pass and let somebody else - in this case, Toni Kroos - put the ball in?  By the time that the pass had been made to Kroos, though, the Villareal defence had adjusted accordingly and were ready to deal with the incoming cross irrespective of the angle from which the ball was delivered.

"Tactical decisions are the coach's prerogative, Ancelotti must have felt that was the best option at the time". Emilio Butragueño)

What would have happened if Toni Kroos had himself turned away from putting the ball in and knocked it instead across towards the midfield?  Would he then have felt that he hadn't taken the responsibility himself of making the cross? Would Kroos have felt that he had ‘passed the buck' to someone else? In other words, were the team trying so hard on the night that everything just looked forced and wasted?

In general, though, with regards to whatever is the best option at the time, I don't think that in every case there is a definitive answer.  In situations where a player is through on goal and is being quickly shut down by the goalkeeper or a fast-approaching defender, the obvious pass is to a teammate in a better position.  However, when players are trying too hard they often think that to make the obvious pass will be seen as a cop-out and that's when you start to get individual personalities coming in to play.  Often, players will want to be seen to have accepted the responsibility for making the correct decision.  So instead of giving the ball to somebody in a better position, they will often think that they need to deliver the goods themselves; such as when Cristiano Ronaldo headed wide instead of directing the ball across the six-yard area where colleagues were waiting in a better position.  I don't think he was being greedy; I just think he felt that the responsibility was on him to score although on reflection it turned out to be the wrong decision at the time.

With regards to the substitution of Isco and comments thereafter from Carlo Ancelotti, the managers always see the games from a different angle to the supporters.  He will have had his reasons for making the changes when he did and this was emphasised by Emilio Butragueno, speaking on Canal Plus.

"Tactical decisions are the coach's prerogative," he said.  "Ancelotti must have felt that was the best option at the time".

It doesn't automatically mean that the support will agree with these changes though - and clearly they didn't on the night - but Ancelotti will have been looking at the game from a different viewpoint.

Butragueño also spoke about missed chances and highlighted the miss by Jesé; saying that the young striker has the type of personality that "always wants to be at the centre of things and isn't afraid to miss chances", he explained.  So if all the players have the same attitude, and all want to be at the centre of things, then is it possible that Real Madrid are just trying too hard at the moment and is this simply having the opposite effect?

The next two games are tricky ones with neither Athletic Bilbao nor Levante being easy sides to play against.  Athletic have won their last two games by 1-0 both times, firstly against Rayo Vallecano a week ago at San Mames and again at Eibar at the weekend.  Levante managed to beat Granada 2-1 a week ago but lost 4-2 at Rayo on Saturday night with former Real Madrid youngster Alberto Bueno scoring all four of Rayo's goals. It's in games like these where you are expected to win comfortably that people feel they have to accept the responsibility simply because you are expected to win.  However, sometimes trying too hard can be just as bad as not trying hard enough...

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