At least on paper, the trip to Mallorca looked like three points in the bag. The hosts were a recently promoted side who had struggled in the beginning of the season and occupied a threatening spot in the relegation zone. Well, another goal conceded in the first 10 minutes and then no tangible reaction, at least in what really matters, goals scored.
The underwhelming performance in Mallorca not only brought us memories of similar encounters with arguably inferior opposition last season but also confirmed several concerns this year’s side has made evident in the last couple of months: 1) The squad is short; 2) Reliable sources of scoring are nowhere to be found, especially in the second unit and 3) Courtois in white looks like De Gea with the Spanish national team, which is like a terrible impression of himself – if you had faced 24 shots and conceded 12 goals you’d probably look awful too.
Those three elements point at a potentially failed season again, as they impact every single element that would have to work for the team to be successful. However, there is something even more concerning for this scribe, something less concrete but that is indeed permeating players, coach and even the fans: this team is getting used to losing.
Two seasons ago, Real Madrid lost six matches in La Liga. Last season, that figure doubled to reach 12. Even though the team finished in third position, in terms of lost matches there were five clubs who lost less times than Lopetegui’s / Solari’s / Zidane’s side (Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid, Valencia, Getafe and Athletic de Bilbao). And the Santiago Bernabeu, usually Real Madrid’s guarantee of positive outcomes, became the perfect scenario for a bunch of medium sized teams to show their teeth, something that, in a whole other level, Lionel Messi has made a habit of.
Including all official competitions, in the last fifteen months we’ve seen Real Madrid lose to Sevilla, CSKA Moscow – twice, including a 3-0 at the Bernabeu –, Alaves, Levante, Barcelona – three times, featuring a 5-1 thrashing at the Camp Nou and a 3-0 at the Bernabeu --, Eibar, Leganes, Girona, Ajax, Valencia, Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad, Betis, PSG and Mallorca. And if the list is a bit too long and not especially distinguished for a team of the size and budget of Real Madrid, the most frustrating thing is to watch the players after each of these defeats: the collection of excuses, justifications and half-truths to explain why they lost again to theoretically less talented opposition has become downright embarrassing.
Most don’t even bother talking to the media after each defeat, but those who do – Marcelo, Carvajal and Casemiro are the usual suspects – can’t help but sounding like a broken record: “They surprised us right after kick off”, “After that it was tough to react”, “We haven’t played our best game”, “We’ll have to improve”…
With pretty much the same starters they had two seasons ago – minus Ronaldo, I know – the change in mindset is mindboggling. This used to be a team that always had a comeback in them, who starred in amazing Champions League nights where everything seemed lost. They reminded us of the crazy Capello side that needed to trail to play their best football, and made justice of the ubiquitous “Hasta el Final, Vamos Real” chant that kept them going.
It’s hard to believe, but nothing’s left of that attitude. And as early as we are into the season and with that general feeling of aloofness, the team faces a huge match ball on Tuesday: trip to Istanbul, a place that is indeed not for the faint of heart. It’s only October, but this could become the litmus test for the rest of the campaign: if, despite the absentees, the team reacts and gets a positive result, this could be an event to build on in the future. If we see another detached display, I can’t see this year becoming but a replay of the last.
And if all this sounds too pessimistic, allow me to finish with a bang: after 22 muscular injuries so far, Case hasn’t suffered one… yet.
Fingers crossed for Tuesday.