For far too long at Real Madrid has the defence been allowed a free pass due to the clubs superior attacking quality and proficiency in front of goal. However, at Managing Madrid the defensive deficiencies haven't gone unnoticed. Without any further ado lets look over the players seasons.
Sergio Ramos: Ramos had yet another good goal scoring season for a defender as he produced 7 goals - a personal best. However he was a little underwhelming at what he's supposed to be a world beater at; actually defending. He wasn't as dominant aerially as he has been in previous seasons. For example, he won 3.32 aerial duels per game in La Liga compared to 4.28 last season. It showed too. He was beaten on set-pieces on a few occasions which led to Real Madrid conceding corner goals.
Admittedly, Ramos was the star of the show in the victorious FIFA Club World Cup campaign and was rightly awarded player of the tournament. On the domestic front though I guess you could say Ramos was guilty of resting on his laurels, such as the 4-2 loss to Real Sociedad early in the season where he scored a goal and likely thought the match was over after 10 minutes so lost his focus. Ramos still reads the game well - proven by his high numbers for interceptions and clearances - but it was individual errors which allowed opponents goal scoring opportunities as well as momentary lapses in concentration for example being out of position.
Pepe: The veteran Portuguese is now one of the most experienced players at Real Madrid and it showed this season as he was arguably the best defender for the first three quarters of the season. He was solid if unspectacular but he also had his big moments too. For example his thundering header in the first Clásico of the season gave Real Madrid the lead and the impetus to go on and dominate that match. It's well worth mentioning his vastly improved disciplinary record this term too.
An unwavering character at heart of Madrid's defence he often used his surprising turn of pace (for a 32 year old!) to retrieve the ball and cover well to defend from counter-attacks when one of the other defenders were caught too far up the pitch. Pepe also won a good percentage of his individual duels - over 60%. However, Pepe wasn't always perfect. There were times when he over committed to challenges and players cut inside of him, such as Neymar's first Clásico goal. Also, I still feel as though he doesn't possess great chemistry with Raphael Varane and they got caught out a few times as a duo when Ramos was out injured.
Raphael Varane: A good season for the young Frenchman in my opinion. Certainly an improvement over last season when people were not sure if he would return to being the promising prospect that broke through in the 2012-13 season due to his injury and subsequent loss of form. However, despite still being 3rd choice when all the centre-backs are available, Varane has been quietly putting in assured performances. I still believe that he can be the long-term future of this Real Madrid defence. His positioning is already at an expert level, he completes more clearances per game (6.57) than any other player in the Real Madrid squad and like Pepe he's very good at winning his individual battles.
Occasionally though, he too can have an off day. For example his communication with the rest of the defence was terrible in the 4-0 away loss to Atléti and pretty bad in the 2-1 away loss to Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals. Overall though he's improved from last season and is showing a lot of composure in his game which is reassuring. I think the best Real Madrid centre-back partnership in this moment in time is Varane and Pepe but the politics of the Madrid dressing room wouldn't allow for Ramos to be third choice.
Nacho: The Real Madrid Castilla product has now been in the first team for 5 seasons as a back-up squad player. Despite being seemingly happy with this role, if Nacho had any ambitions of becoming a first team regular they must soon be fading if he's to continue to put in the type of performances we've seen from him this year. Yes, he has played more games this season than in nay other and he also scored his first goal to boot - the third in a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Espanyol. However, he generally fails to impress.
Nacho's performances are consistently average with any quality performances usually coming against weak opposition and a few calamitous performances dotted about; see match against Atlético Madrid. I like Nacho but he'll have to be content sticking to being fourth choice as that's about the best he can hope for at this point. In fact, I'd rather the board went after a younger, more promising defender in order to have the position covered in the future. Varane can't be the only option.
Dani Carvajal: He really impressed me last season with his levels of performance in defence at such a young age. Most famously of course in the way he shut down Franck Ribéry in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich. However his play has regressed this season. He started it off with a bad attitude and was making unnecessarily rash challenges. This aspect calmed down as the season wore on but still reared its ugly head when Dani made a reckless - and stupid - challenge on Carlos Tévez to give Juventus a critical penalty in the Champions League semis.
His attacking contribution has been decent this season but interestingly, not significantly better than his fellow Spaniard Árbeloa if we're going by the numbers. His piercing runs and assists for a couple of Ronaldo's goals were impressive but perhaps fans would have hoped for more of those types of play considering how far up the pitch Dani pushes. For me another problem is Carvajal's understanding with Bale. There is little chemistry there and they both need to work on that. All told it was an average season for the Spanish international. I'll expect he'll face stiffer competition for his starting berth from Danilo next season.
Álvaro Arbeloa: As alluded to earlier, Arbeloa actually managed to put in decent offensive numbers this season. He scored twice and assisted 5 goals in comparison to Carvajal's 0 goals and 4 assists across all competitions. But the statistics don;t paint the whole picture here. Whilst Arbeloa surprised fans going forward, he also showed his age through a lack of pace in a number of matches, most notably against UE Cornellá when he gave away a penalty after he was exposed one vs. one. His defending is usually sound on a technical level and he's always known when to take one for the team as it were. It's just the physical aspects of his game that are faltering now.
Nevertheless, it hasn't been a particularly bad season for the Spartan all things considered. He got to play against former club Liverpool in the Champions League and made the highly hyped Raheem Sterling look mediocre in both matches of the group stage. He lacks Carvajal's explosiveness and ability to beat a man but I think Arby makes good overlapping runs and that might be the secret to his relative attacking success this season. It'll be interesting to see what club he's at come the beginning of next season.
Marcelo: Ever the vibrant character on and off the pitch, Marcelo is undoubtedly one of the best attacking full-backs in the world. This comes with its perks, his ability to combine almost telepathically with Cristiano Ronaldo being one of them. He's a very good dribbler of the ball too which allows him to get out of tight spaces and into open ones. Like many Madrid players, his form this season began in electric fashion before tapering off in the second half of it. 4 goals and 9 assists in all competitions this season point to his productivity going forward but it's his lack of defending that makes many fans wary to hold him in high esteem for his position. Indeed, the Brazilian is often found wanting when it comes to tracking back as Ramos and Isco, amongst others, have to come across to the left hand side of the pitch to cover for his attacking forays.
This leaves Real Madrid very susceptible to counter-attacks. A major weakness that has no doubt been duly noted and punished by many opposing managers and teams. Furthermore, this season Marcelo made too many individual errors that led to good opposition chances or even goals. Another area where Marcelo offers weakness is in his aerial game. Whilst he is quite short, it is not acceptable for a defender to be winning only 22% of his aerial duels. It's a constant source of debate as to whether Marcelo's ends justify his means, for example his thunderbastard of a goal against Schalke this season. He can be a game changer, especially if the team is behind. To me he is the quintessential Marmite footballer. At times exhilarating, at others calamitous.
Fábio Coentrão: Much stronger defensively than his aforementioned counterpart, Coentrão had his season blighted by injury. When he wasn't injured he wasn't able to push himself into contention to be a permanent starter and consequently his performances were slight;y underwhelming. I found this to be quite surprising given the way he ended the 2013/14 season when he dominated Arjen Robben across two legs and contributed assists to crucial goals against both Bayern Munich and Barcelona. This season however he created very little offensively when he played (0.22 chances created per game in La Liga) and his level seems to have dropped.
Fábio's defending has always remained resolute and he is very difficult to beat one vs. one which is certainly something that the club should keep in mind. That's why I often think he's a better player to field against the very top teams rather than Marcelo who is better at playing the middling and lower teams due to ability to break down opposing defences. Anyway, his discipline wasn't particularly great considering he managed to get himself sent off in one of the few matches he played, against Espanyol. Perhaps he has other things on his mind, such as where he'll be playing next season. That might be an interesting tale to follow this summer. We know Manchester United were very interested a couple of seasons ago.