After another stunningly disappointing performance and currently standing 7 points back of leaders Barcelona, it is looking more and more like time to move La Liga to the back burner and put all our eggs in the knock-out tournament basket. Even in the CR7 era, we were significantly better in channeling our efforts toward specific, high-impact games a la the Champions League rather than the marathon run that is La Liga. With the club seemingly crumbling on all fronts, this seems like it might be the case even more as the team struggles to find any sort of consistency from week to week. Although I hate the idea of essentially conceding the league so early in the season, I can think of a number of good reasons for going this route:
- The core of our squad seems tired and significantly older than in years past. Playing week in and week out will only weaken them for the truly important matches in the Champions League and Copa Del Rey, both of which are (theoretically, at least) still winnable. Keeping them fresh for key games seems like a smart move at this point.
- Accepting that La Liga is essentially out of reach could give the young guys a chance to really stretch their legs out there. None of this 10-15 minutes to close out games business. Let them get a proper run in the squad, from the opening whistle. We’ve seen how giving the youngsters a chance can pay dividends in the ascendance of Marcos Llorente, and, while I don’t expect to get that kind of result often, giving guys like Vinicius, Fede, Odriozola, and Reguilon (when healthy, of course) the chance to prove themselves could pay dividends in the long term.
- Figuring out how various pieces of this team fit together rather than relying on a fixed starting 11 may prove useful, especially as rumors of Florentino’s desire to shuffle the deck and completely rebuild the roster continue to swirl. While I am not at all in favor of nuking the current squad and starting from scratch, any sort of rebuilding effort will need to begin with a clear picture of the players we have on hand before we can figure out how to move forward. Getting a better look at all the guys would aid greatly in that endeavor.
- Letting go of the dream of a miraculous turnaround in La Liga would drastically improve my mental health. Being invested in a team is a much less stressful proposition when my team is either the clear winner or out of the running, because there is no chance for my hopes to be dashed. Rooting for the Lakers during the championship era was easy; pulling for them through the doldrums of the last few years was simple, if not particularly gratifying, as well, because I knew going in it wasn’t going to end well. Being in limbo with an LA squad newly committed to winning is killing me this season because I can’t figure out how much belief to invest in the team. During this interim moment, Real Madrid is currently ripping out my heart and spitting on my already frayed nerves, and anything to lessen that pain would be a welcome respite.
The problem with this plan is that we can only de-prioritize La Liga so much before we put ourselves in danger of missing out on the Champions League next year, which would be truly devastating. With how tight the league has been this season, and how good Sevilla have looked (and not just in their 3-0 trouncing of us), a Champions League spot is anything but secure, especially with the way we have been playing. The counterargument is that we are getting poor results anyway, so it can’t hurt to explore some different options while saving our key players for the most crucial games. I tend to believe we can’t afford to sacrifice too many key pieces in La Liga without risking slipping further down the table, but I wouldn’t be against a little more squad rotation to give guys like Modric, Marcelo, and Carvajal the rest they need to stay sharp, and give the young guys a chance to prove they deserve their spot. Rotating too much more than that would be dangerous and, in my opinion, could open us up to even more nauseating results and compromise our European campaign for next season. There is a case to be made for shifting our priorities in the wake of recent results, but while some delicate tinkering may be helpful, it requires a steady hand and a keen eye, neither of which I see in Santiago Solari. If we’re not careful, this season of “rebuilding” could compromise the return to prominence everyone is envisioning in the near future. For my own sanity, I pray someone in the organization can find the balance we need to make it through to the other side.