A sense of melancholy dimmed the Bernabeu as the fans exited the stadium in last night's draw against Malaga. While Real Madrid haven't lost a game all season, the results have been flattering; and, while the league is far from over, securing points in games like this is what enables a Champion to eventually trump the league in May.
While Rafa Benitez's coaching staff will tell you that this was an important point gained, the reality is that two vital points were lost against a (then) 19th place Malaga side.
Yes, we know that Carlo Ancelotti was the Lucifer of rotations - he never cared much for them even when he was with Milan. Needless to say it eventually took a toll on Real Madrid's players in the most crucial point of the season.
While Benitez is attempting to rectify this problem by utilizing his squad depth more systematically, the reality is that he tends to take it to an extreme. Real Madrid loses a lot of dynamism without James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale, and rather than rotating his reserves - Kovacic, Jese, Vazquez - he should be suiting up the next best player available. Essentially, he needs to ride the hot form of Kovacic. Perhaps it's telling that Real Madrid can't slay Malaga at home with Jese on the right flank, but in truth, Jese's confidence is clobbered, and quite frankly he's just lost. Being in the Bernabeu last night I can't tell you how many times Carvajal and Modric were yelling at him off-camera to get into a position he wasn't already in.
Clobbered confidence. And therein lies one of the problems with an acute rotation system - it makes it difficult for players to get into a rhythm and find their best form. Kovacic's entrance to the match yesterday gave Real Madrid a spark and fluidity that didn't exist prior, and had he been there from the start, it would have allowed Isco to push higher up the pitch and bring his flair to the attacking third.
- Don't worry about Cristiano Ronaldo
If Ronaldo's problem was that he was disengaged with the rest of the team, then that's something to worry about. But once Ronaldo is heavily involved in the bulk of Real Madrid's chances, he's already connected in a conducive way - even if he's not converting those chances. Cristiano normally would have had a brace with the same chance he had last night, but that is not to say he had a bad game. Such is the standard of the most prolific scorer this Club has ever seen. If Ronaldo is integrated within the flow of the offense, he will inevitably start hitting the back of the net.
- Keylor Navas may have a historic season
We have enough of a sample size now to know that Real Madrid's defensive barricade is no chance occurrence. Benitez's defensive stance is very real. Couple that with the fact that Keylor Navas has been ubber great, and Real Madrid might put up some deranged numbers in the goals conceded category. After six games, Los Blancos have conceded just one goal. That, theoretically, is on course for a total of 6-7 goals conceded by the end of the year. Of course, that is completely inconceivable, but the point is that Real Madrid's defense - along with Keylor Navas' impressive form - is a great reassuring combination.
In case you're wondering, the record for fewest goals conceded in La Liga was 15 - set by Real Madrid in 1931-1932.