Real Madrid’s season has started in surprising, and rather disappointing fashion. Los Blancos are 14 points off league leaders Barcelona (with a game in hand), and have struggled in nearly every competition they’ve participated this season.
But why? Truthfully, there are many reasons why Madrid has not played up to its lofty standards. The most common reasons given involve Madrid’s poor Summer in the transfer market, a weak bench, a Striker that isn’t as prolific as he used to be, lack of motivation, and often poor tactics from Zinedine Zidane.
While all of these problems are at least partially correct (gripes about the striker position especially), there is one stark difference between this season, and the end of last season where Madrid looked so dominant. That difference is in the form of its two fullbacks, Dani Carvajal, and Marcelo.
At the end of last season, the two talented wide-backs were unstoppable. Marauding down the wings while playing an integral role in Zidane’s diamond formation, the two players were maybe even more important to Madrid’s success than the dominant midfield play. In a formation that plays through the middle as much as the diamond, having two wing-backs that can stretch play like Marcelo and Carvajal are essential.
The only problem is that neither have been as effective this season. At the end of last season, Marcelo had accumulated 6 goals and 14 assists, while Carvajal provided 1 goal and 12 assists. Those are astounding numbers for two players that play in a team’s defensive line. At mid-season this year, Marcelo has 1 goal and 3 assists, while Carvajal has just 2 assists.
Yes, Dani Carvajal’s numbers are slightly skewed because of an injury, but he still played 20 games with the team, and even from pre-season one could see he was a step behind. It’s not just the numbers either. The eye-test tells you everything, neither player is playing as well as they did in the season prior. They just aren’t the same players that could play a deadly ball in at any turn, or help Madrid significantly in build-up. Real Madrid would likely have never won the Champions League without moments of brilliance like Carvajal’s driven cross to Ronaldo for the opener in the first leg against Bayern Munich, or performances like Marcelo’s in same ties’ second leg.
Many will malign Real Madrid’s poor finishing, and especially the performances of Karim Benzema when searching for a reason behind Madrid’s poor offensive start to the season. While the Frenchman, along with his fellow forwards deserve a lot of that criticism, the lack of production from the fullbacks has contributed to this. Not scoring goals is just as much on the chances being provided as the finishing. There has been plenty of quantity, however, the quality of service has not been up to par this season, and the already-struggling Madrid forwards are hurting because of it.
It may be unfair to expect the same level of production in terms of goals and assists from their fullbacks, but even without the statisitcs, Real Madrid needs better play from them. If crossing and width is going to be the bread and butter of the system, it is an undeniable fact that your fullbacks must be one of the focal points.
That’s not to say that they can’t turn it around. We all know what players of Marcelo and Dani Carvajal’s quality are capable of. Last year they were arguably the very best at their respective positions, but this year they’re struggling.
In a system that loves to cross the ball, and stretch play as often as Zidane’s, the poor play from its fullbacks has greatly hurt the end product. If Real Madrid want to kick their season into gear for a strong finish, they should start with Marcelo and Carvajal. With their Champions League opponents PSG flying into the new year, Los Blancos will need to sort this issue out sooner rather than later.