The Madrid-Barca Axis: Why Real are struggling in La Liga without Cristiano

A few short weeks ago I could barely have envisaged writing such a piece, given the strength of Real Madrid’s squad and just how strongly they began the campaign with victories over Manchester United and Barcelona.

Yet Los Blancos are struggling domestically in the absence of their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo’s total five-match suspension, as a result of being sent-off for two yellow cards in the Supercopa de Espana and then subsequently shoving the referee, has hit Real Madrid hard.


Barca hitting the ground running

Domestically their form has ground to a halt with successive draws leaving them four points behind Barcelona in the La Liga standings. Now this is far from an insurmountable gap for Zinedine Zidane’s charges but in a division that is usually contested between the two teams, it is an advantage handed to the Blaugrana.

It is worth remembering that just weeks ago Los Cules were seen as a team in absolute decline following Neymar’s acrimonious departure to Paris Saint-Germain.

Three successive La Liga victories have followed, along with a 3-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League that was so reminiscent of Barcelona’s best days in the sense of how the group performed as a team and the style of football they played.

As Ernesto Valverde is beginning to get things right at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid simply cannot afford any more slip-ups and Sunday’s trip to Real Sociedad is a must-win match.


Lack of firepower

One of the issues Zidane has faced in Ronaldo’s absence has been a lack of firepower. The 2-2 draw with Valencia and the 1-1 draw with Levante, both home matches, have seen Los Blancos take a grand total of around 40 shots and convert just three of them.

Gareth Bale is not fully fit but is playing, whilst Karim Benzema’s strong point is not performing in a struggling team; his best is brought out by having high quality performers around him.

Marco Asensio did his best to drag the team over the line against Valencia with a brace but he cannot be relied upon alone.

The departures of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez made sense at the time, they remain decisions that benefit the club in the long-term, however from a footballing perspective it is clear that Real Madrid are lacking attacking depth with injuries and suspensions all hitting at once.

It is a situation that couldn’t have been foreseen and the fact it has occurred so early on in the season is both unfortunate yet lucky in the same breath. Whilst Los Blancos are in a difficult moment at this time, there are plenty of months left in the season to recover their form.

Had this happened right at the point where the Champions League and La Liga races begin to hot up, it could have been far more disastrous.


Guaranteed goalscoring machine

Cristiano guarantees goals in a way no other member of the club’s attacking line does, you know Cristiano will hit 30 goals in La Liga every single season, without fail, so it is obvious a team will suffer without him.

Benzema’s injury against Levante doesn’t help matters either with even more pressure now put on a far from fully fit Bale to start as a no.9, despite the admission he only got through last season with the aid of a painkilling injections.

Lucas Vazquez is appreciated by the French coach because of his versatility and the fact he always does exactly what he is asked. The issue with Vazquez is when his role as a squad option is shifted to a key option.

He doesn’t have the capability to produce on a regular basis and influence matches in the way Cristiano and Asensio can.

Zidane currently has to make do with playing good, technical players in attack but they are far from killers. You need to have a killer in front of goal if you are to truly punish teams who allow you to take upwards of 15 shots at their goal in a single game.


Not a critical issue at the moment, but they need to be more clinical

There are no fundamental issues at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu right now; this is not a crisis, but merely a negative run of results caused by absences in personnel. Real Madrid are still playing fine football, they just can’t seem to add the finishing touches to it.

Unfortunately this has coincided with Barcelona finding form in a way few could have imagined before the league season began, thus more pressure is placed upon Zidane’s shoulders.

A trip to San Sebastian is seldom easy but Los Blancos head to the Basque country knowing they must win. The club cannot afford to slip even further behind their fierce rivals before Ronaldo’s return.


Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn

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