The international break is upon us. It’s a time where we worry whether our players come back in one piece or not. But this is also a time that a coach can re-evaluate his team, as a series of very important fixtures are on the horizon.
The news dropped today that Toni Kroos, the German passing machine, picked up a foot injury and could be out for at least a month and a half. The plus side is that Pepe, Benzema, Ramos and Casemiro are close to returning to the squad, and should be ready to go for El Derbi madrileño.
There is definitely something going on with the BBC. Whether it’s injuries or players not playing at full 100%, they’re just not connecting with each other. While Bale has provided some service to Ronaldo and Benzema/Morata, for the most part there has been a giant disconnect from the front three.
Check out these passing maps, and tell me what do you see?
You can see that the BBC isn’t connecting. The patch work midfield is getting the job done, but at the same time it’s like all three of Bale, Benzema and CR7 are all on their own little islands. For example, look at the passing map vs Eibar - it’s a good illustration of what I’m talking about. There was no connection between the attacking trio, and as a matter of fact, Benzema dropped back to the midfield to get touches.
We can’t have our striker dropping back to the midfield. This leaves Ronaldo and Bale alone up top. Zidane needs to find a way to get all three of these guys involved with each other. We may be at the top of the table and undefeated across all competitions - but this is still a worrisome thing and could come back to bite Real Madrid if something isn’t done to correct it.
Maybe it’s a rhythm thing, or maybe that he’s still not 100%, but right now Keylor Navas isn’t the Keylor Navas from 15/16. He’s not looking like a world beater like he did last term. To be fair, he’s only had only 8 appearances across all competitions. But in those 8 matches he’s only managed one clean sheet in the lot, and that was last weekend against Leganes. In Warsaw he made a mental error that lead to a goal that allowed Legia back into the match.
Right now Real Madrid’s save percentage of 42.9% - which is under the league average of 54.4% - is a pretty glaring stat. Can this all be put on the head of Keylor? Not fully, at least. Kiko Casilla started the season as the #1. Even when not at 100%, Navas is still better than Casilla in net. This isn’t a knock on Kiko, rather just the reality of the situation.
To be fair, injuries have decimated our back-line. I think everyone but Danilo has picked up some sort of knock or injury since the start of the season. I think this is also plays on what I was talking above about the goalkeeping. When you have a back-line that doesn’t play together on a regular basis there is going to be some miscommunication.
This is where Keylor needs to step up and marshal the defenders and set up the defense as he sees fit. I just don’t think he’s been taking control as he should. But when you have your two best central defenders go down around the same time - it really puts a cramp in your defensive style. A patchwork defense is most likely one of the causes of having so few clean sheets. It’s good to know that Ramos and Pepe will be back in time for El Derbi Madrileño.
They are sorely needed.
Now I’m not taking away what Varane and Nacho have done in their absence but it was felt to be sure. So far this season I don’t think Zizou has had his first choice XI out there yet and it’ll stay that way until we get Toni Kroos back from his injury.
To be fair we’ve done well this season, top of the league, haven’t lost a match yet. But (there’s always a but), if these three things are not addressed coming out of the international break - it could be bumpy roads ahead.
Zidane is going to have to make some calls for the good of the team going forward. Right now a main cog of the midfield is out, and one has returned in the form of Luka Modric. If it was me? I’d go with a Modric/Kovacic/Casemiro midfield. Though that’s not to say that Isco hasn’t earned a look at the starting line up - but I think that Kovacic who is in a good run of form right should take the place of Toni Kroos and keep doing so until he proves otherwise.
I know some fans are already crying, saying things like ‘We’re not going to win the league! We have no identity! We suck! No tactics! etc etc etc.’. To this I call BS, we’ve been hurt by injuries to key players on our squad - yet we’re still undefeated. That being said we’re about to head into the toughest group of fixtures yet - where Real Madrid need to be as healthy as possible. Both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona are on the horizon. Not to mention we still have Champions League play coming up as well.
I really do think these upcoming fixtures are going to be a litmus test for how the rest of the season could play out. I think that these groups of matches will test Zizou more than he’s been tested yet. We have to keep in mind he hasn’t been on the job all that long, and so far has won us a Champions League. Could the league be next? It’s possible, but it’s still early - there is a lot of football to be played.