Sergio Ramos’ presence in the back line has been the saving grace for Real Madrid for years but remove him for just one game, and all hell breaks loose on the royal club of Spain. Coming into the 2019/20 season, Zinedine Zidane’s priority other than signing new members was to ease the defensive woes and it took a trip to Paris and a 3-0 drubbing to make him realize that defence does win you titles.
In their first encounter of the 2019/20 Champions League campaign, Los Blancos came across Paris Saint Germain in hostile conditions away from home. The stage was set for Real’s new beloved Eden Hazard to shine but it was rather an ex-Madridista Angel De Maria who made his previous club pay for their sins.
Newly inducted, Eder Militao started in place for Ramos and was completely overwhelmed by PSG’s line of attack. He lacked coordination with his counterpart Raphael Varane and was almost out of place for rest of the match. The defeat was even more hurtful as Real had failed to keep a clean sheet in the first four appearances of the new season in La Liga.
But since the defeat, the next three encounters painted an entirely different picture. Zidane decided to revamp the defensive duties of the team, bringing Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard to track back in case of a counterattack and organized a much better defensive structure in the middle by unleashing the true potential of Casemiro.
James Rodrigues is up and running, taking care of the flow of the game, pairing up well with Karim Benzema while Toni Kroos looks well settled in dictating the play from the midfield. The instructions from the French manager seems to be clear – close the short passing lanes and press whenever the ball is in the midfield.
The result was evident in the next encounter against a rowdy opponent, Sevilla. Los Blancos had never emerged victorious at the Ramon Panchez Pizjuan in the past five years but a good defensive shape and a delightful cross from Dani Carvajal to Karim Benzema made sure that visitors take away all three points in the Spanish domestic league.
The results followed in two subsequent encounters as Real managed to keep clean sheets against Osasuna at home and in unfavourable conditions against neighbours Atletico Madrid. The Madrid Derby should have gone Real’s way, but the clean sheet was the heart of the matter that kept Zidane happy with just a sole point.
In an attempt to find answer to their defensive woes, Real lost their way at home against Club Brugge in the Champions League encounter. The Santiago Bernabeu sulked when they witnessed their team 2-0 down at half time, wondering where all the promise in the defence went. However, strikes from the captain Ramos and defensive stalwart Casemiro restored balance as Real rescued a point.
The encounter proved that Ramos is the key to Real’s defence. Removing him is inviting trouble and an opportunity to the opponents who can hurt you. It’s still early in the season but Zidane is yet to find a clear answer to his defensive troubles. For all its worth, the goals might dry up a bit but that will never be the answer to solving defensive problems.
Feature image courtesy: AFP/Javier Soriano