As Real Madrid fans are wont to do when things go less than swimmingly, they have spent the last few weeks/months decrying the performances of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both, and arguably our only two real attackers since Gareth Bale has been out so much with injury, so far this season, have not delivered the goals and assists that we've come to expect, and so desperately need.
Poor Benzema - not only hasn't he been scoring goals, but his fail-safe 'link-up-play' uniqueness has even faded to oblivion doing nothing to salvage his attempt to counter Gary Lineker's comments.
And Ronaldo, quite literally the most prolific goal-scorer in history, while slow-to-warm-up most seasons, is in one heck a goal-scoring drought as we get closer to the mid-point of the season.
Couple all this with Real Madrid's less than stellar patch the last month, and well, fans and pundits alike are touting the end of the Zidane era already, and calling for the sale of these two “dinosaurs.”
But just how much of this is a Chicken Little scenario?
The Sky Isn't Falling as Fast as We Think
So Big Benz only has one goal this season in 480 mins… Not so shabby compared to last year's 3rd highest La Liga scorer, Luis Suarez.
That being said, I'm hoping something lights the fire under Karim soon. Granted he's missed 6 total matches this year due to injury, but if he's going to beat last season's meager tally of 11 goals and 5 assists, he better get started.
And Ronaldo, I'll give you one guess as to how many goals he had in La Liga by this date last year… that's right, ONE! And if it wasn't for the insane 5 goals haul against Espanyol, he'd only have had a couple the year before. But he had no problem finishing finished with 24 in the league in 2016/2017 and 37 for the 2015/2016 season.
Given that he's a) almost always slow to start a season, b) missed five La Liga matches due to red card ban, c) routinely the player most hungry for it on the pitch and c) leading UCL goals scorer so far, I think Ronaldo will be just fine.
Assuming of course, that we can get the following sorted.
What's really to blame
It's always easiest for fans to vacillate between which player is least in form. It's personally vindicating, and easier to ascribe all the fault on just one person.
I think that's a crock of crap and it always pisses me off. Player's form will always contain peaks and valleys. In addition, we're blessed with literally some of the best players on the planet, so while we might want to take out our frustrations on one or two players, there are always larger, team-wide things to blame.
Defenses that know they can park the bus
We've all been witness to the transition from Mou's pure counter, to Ancelotti's free-wheeling end-to-end, now to Zidane's…not exactly sure where we're at, but maintaining a lot more possession in the opposing 3rd, that's for sure.
When Zizou first took over, there were a good run of games that we almost invited pressure (think Atletico/Bayern), but now teams seem to have found our weakness and invite pressure from us. When even the smallest of clubs pack in two tight banks of four, we're largely inept and breaking them down, and have been careless and disorganized in defense.
This means that one of the games counter-attacking greats ends up camping his #7 butt waiting for a cross or has to drop deep to receive the ball, but then is faced with dribbling through 4-5 players.
Even Benzema's normal fluidity through the gaps and in between lines is stunted with how tightly the defense is packed in.
This leads to endless circulation around the perimeter and dependence on single strokes of genius to try and find a way through. This current system isn't set up to help anyone score, let alone CR7 or KB9.
Flawed system + Casemiro and the decline of a decisive mid-three
This follows from the previous point. Zidane's system (or general lack thereof), his fruitless dabbling with a diamond midfield, and the use of Casemiro for any and all opponents has significantly hindered our goal-scoring chances.
I'm not going to attempt to argue that we should play a 4-3-3/4-4-2 for every opponent, but heck, even the days of Modric, Kroos, Isco/James and the frenetic scramble for defense seem to be better than what we have now. We might have bled a few more goals at the back, but we were demons on offense and out-scored our opponents, often by a ton.
While Case brings, on occasion, a rock wall of stability in the back, he absolutely castrates our offense at times. And against certain opponents, I think, is the absolute wrong call. We're not finding the through passes, can't break down lines, and don't have enough connective tissue to quickly cycle the ball from the back to the front.
Lack of creativity
Only one thing to say to this beyond what I've already said above.
Real Madrid this season average 27 crosses per game, and 2 through balls per game.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) November 7, 2017
So while we aren’t seeing the best from either of our attackers at the moment, it isn’t all that unusual a start to the season, and there are certainly many contributing factors.
And while they’re both getting old, and we’ll definitely need to think about replacements in the near future, I still think we’ll see plenty out of Benzema and Ronaldo this season.
Here’s to the usual pick up in the next month or so, hopefully...