Let's face it, until our win over La Real yesterday, we hadn't won a match in long enough that it was getting kind of scary. After the oozing confidence that came with a 40 game undefeated streak, we're seeing our boys rattled, a little shaky, and well, not winning.
Any cohesiveness in our team play seems to be a mere memory, and our offensive fluidity seldom makes an appearance. We’ve had some downright nightmare-inducing moments in defense, and worst, we’ve lost that edge – that palpable, almost electrical current as the underpinning of most if not all our previous matches – that feeling, that knowing that we not only had what it took to win, to come back from being down in the 93rd minute (AGAIN), but that we were GOING to win.
Right now you’re probably thinking, “oh great, here comes another negative arm-chair pundit opinion piece on the poor state of our club.
But instead of beating the gloom-and-doom drum, I’m going to flip to the other side. Not the click-bait, ignorantly-happy-platitudes-for-the-sake-of-it side, but one that I feel is a legitimate cause for optimism going forward. Sure we managed to keep a clean sheet against Real Sociedad, have kept our 4 point lead in La Liga with a game in hand, and are still in contention for the Champions League, and it looks like we’re heading in the right direction, but here are three positives now that Real Madrid is out of the Copa del Rey.
We've already discussed our current and continued injury woes ad nauseam (Gerry’s, Mine, Lucas’s), so this section is going to be short and sweet, but one of the major contributors to consistent injuries is playing lots and lots of soccer matches. When Real Madrid are exerting themselves 100% with only a few days rest, they are more likely to pick up injuries.
Put simply, and as obvious and rudimentary as it may sound, given that we already have so many of our stars out, not having extra games mid-week in the coming weeks will help prevent additional injuries.
The psychology of sport and the turn around of loss
I really wanted to write a monster article on the psychology behind sport, and the monumental impact team mentality has on the outcome of games and seasons - some day when I have way more time I might drop something huge on you. But in the meantime, I do want to touch briefly on the just the edges of this topic that we can all, at least anecdotally, relate to.
The mental aspect of sustained winning is horribly underrated. After a 40 game undefeated streak, expectations exceed rational limits. Not just from the famously petulant fans, but the day-to-day pressure that Real Madrid players must live up to - pressure imposed on themselves to perform, pressure from Zidane, pressure from Florentino Pérez and the board, pressure to live up to the royal crest.
At some point the pressure becomes unsustainable. We've all seen crystal clear examples over the years of teams in stunning form that lose unexpectedly, or forget their focus for just one match and then famously crash and burn. Just look at what happened last season after we beat Barca in the Clasico. Their form turned demonstrably and were it not for Saurez pretty much single-handedly saving them with god-like performances, they would have flopped a 12 point lead in La Liga.
It's critical to have the right mindset after a loss. To have the time to take a step back, regroup. Being out of the Copa del Rey will afford us the mental reprieve to collect our senses and charge ahead with the passion and confidence we haven't seen in a while.
La Liga focus
If we're really honest, our odds of winning the UEFA Champions League are awfully slim. No one has managed the feat since the current format began, and for a reason. Now that we're out of the Copa del Rey, our primary focus should be winning the league. We have the advantage of a game in hand, and home games against our toughest competition to finish the second half of the year. We should absolutely focus on taking home our first league title in five years.
I'm by no means advocating against trying to win the UCL. If we can turn things around and put in a good show against Napoli, then there's no reason we shouldn't try to break yet another record.
But if it comes down to it, winning as many matches as possible in the league should take priority. Depending on how our injury situation continues to shape up, we need to take the time to mentally re-group, build ourselves and our confidence back up, and hopefully go into the final stretch of the season rejuvenated, eager, in form, and most importantly, hungry for a league title.