There is no more logic or meaning in life. Words mean nothing. Facts are negotiable. The idea of a “run of form” doesn’t even exist anymore. At least that is what our recent results seem to suggest.
I know recency bias is a thing, and as fans we are all liable to sway like leaves in the wind in the wake of any kind of result, whether a resounding victory/loss or even a tepid draw, but this season has been damn near impossible to get a handle on even considering the normal vicissitudes. We seem to have flip flopped between excellent and god-awful performances with regularity, all season long, so much so that I’m starting to think it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Given the Occam’s razor dictum that the simplest solution is usually the correct one, I think the explanation for this phenomenon is actually pretty basic - maybe we’re just not that good.
On the most recent Managing Madrid podcast, Om Arvind made the point that we had overrated our performance against Valencia because of the low standard we have set for ourselves this season, and I had to admit he was right. Yeah we looked good, especially in the first half, but sandwiched between the hideous outings at Eibar and Huesca, it took on an unreasonably sparkly quality and, desperate as we have been for a silver lining, we pounced on it. Or at least I did. What has become more and more evident, even as we have accumulated more Ws than Ls under Solari, is that, while we still have more than enough quality to be playing great football, more often than not we simply aren’t.
Aside from those opening fixtures under Lopetegui, where we looked comfortable playing J-Lo’s possession based style, we haven’t seemed to have much of an identity out on the field. We’re not particularly solid defensively. We’re not fluid or even confident in possession. We don’t create many high quality chances. We no longer feel lethal on the counterattack. We often seem to just be stumbling through games until we happen on a particular moment of brilliance – or, often enough, ineptitude – and that changes the complexion of the match.
Come to think of it, maybe that is our identity. That is how I remember feeling during stretches of the 2009-10 season as Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo were incorporated into the team. I remember nervously watching games on crappy online streaming sites and just praying one of our superstars would imprint themselves on the match. While both seasons were played during a transitional time for the squad, the difference then – and it is a huge one – is that even through the growing pains, we were actually winning games. We also had a coach (in Pellegrini) with an established style which was eventually incorporated over the course of the season. This season couldn’t be more different. Instead of growing pains, we seem to be experiencing the aftershocks from the diminution the team suffered by losing CR7 last summer. And instead of an established coach with a defined identity and experience, we have, well, Santiago Solari, whose bona fides in both regards are limited to say the least. You could say that that was the start of an era, and this is the end of one, and that part of the storyline never bodes well.
This is not a doomsday proclamation, though. The sky is not falling, despite appearances to the contrary, and I know this because this is still Real f***ing Madrid. Have you heard the way people refer to this club, with bated breath and hushed reverence? Have you seen elite players like Eden Hazard tripping over themselves to declare the Bernabeu the ultimate footballing destination? You call this a crisis? Please. Even considering the lack of form of many in our squad, we still have a handful or two of players who are among the best in the world at their positions. You couldn’t name a World XI that wasn’t at least a quarter composed of Real Madrid players. And even if the exact combination isn’t working together here at the moment, each of those players has significant value on the football market with which to acquire the next generation of Galácticos to usher in another era of greatness. Does that mean we have to write this season off entirely? I don’t think so, as we are still very much in four major competitions, but it does mean that this is a transitional moment for our eternally vaunted club. I still believe that we can turn this into a decent season, but at a minimum we will emerge from it with a better idea of what our squad will be going forward and how to shape both the team and the coaching staff to get the most out of the new era. It remains to be seen which players make it through the fire, but there can be no doubt that the club will see its way out of this. Because Real Madrid is about greatness. And THAT is our identity.