A pale shadow of the 2014 side, Los Blancos’ failure to claim a trophy at the end of this campaign highlights a number of fatal flaws in their expensive armoury
Real Madrid’s Undecima dream has died. Last season’s Champions League winners have stumbled their way through this competition in the knockout stages. They were playing with fire – and on Wednesday they finally got burnt.
Madrid had scraped past Schalke despite an embarrasing 4-3 defeat at home to the German side in the last 16. They then edged out 10-man Atletico with a sole strike in 180 minutes of last-eight football. And they have now been beaten in the semi-finals after twice failing to overcome Juventus. It is difficult to conclude that they deserved better.
Just like against Valencia in La Liga on Saturday, Madrid threw everything at their rival late in this game as they sought to stay in the hunt for a major trophy. But now, as then, it wasn’t quite sufficient and in the space of five disastrous days, any hopes of winning a title at the end of this season have evaporated.
It shouldn’t have been this way. Madrid created chances to win the first leg, but lost it due to defensive indisicpline. And they also wasted opportunities to score an all-important second goal in the decider after Cristiano Ronaldo gave them the lead from the penalty spot.
But in the end they simply weren’t good enough.
Iker Casillas could have done better with Alvaro Morata’s crucial strike, his weak hands making contact but failing to stop the forward’s fierce drive.
Ahead of the club captain, Real’s static defence allowed Morata space and time to tee up a shot after Iker had initially punched clear. It wasn’t all his fault and blaming the much-maliged skipper would be unfair as he also kept them in it with a super save from Claudio Marchisio later on.
Title-winning teams are built on strong defences and Ancelotti’s men were shown up in both games here – just as they were against Schalke in the last 16.
But further forward, Gareth Bale missed countless chances, firing high and wide when he should have hit the target. That will hardly help his fragile confidence and whereas the Welsh winger popped up with key strikes to win the Copa del Rey and the Champions League last season, he is very much a villain in the current campaign.
Ronaldo should have done better with a couple of first-half efforts as well, causing frustration on one occasion when – unusually – he opted to cross when he should have shot.
A lack of balance in midfield has also cost Madrid. Sergio Ramos, so poor in Turin, was kept in defence this time but Madrid have badly missed the injured Luka Modric, who was watching on nervously from the sidelines.
In his absence, Real started with Isco, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos in a midfield three. The first two are more adept at playing off or behind a striker, while the latter is not a holding midfielder. Square pegs, round holes.
The final analysis is that Real remain a very strong side, but this year’s version is not quite up to the superb standards of last season’s vintage. Missing Modric through injury, with Bale misfiring, Karim Benzema not fully fit and Casillas struggling for confidence, this team currently has too many problems. And when it mattered most, the world’s priciest squad looked thin and inadequate.
The summer sales of Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria have hindered their hopes. The Basque gave Madrid much-needed balance in midfield and has not been replaced, as Asier Illarramendi, Sami Khedira and Luca Silva have all tried – and failed – to fill his sizeable shoes. Di Maria, meanwhile, was key with his bursting runs from deep, his sacrifice in defence and ability to keep on going when others were too tired – as proven in the Champions League win against Atleti last term.
So it’s not all Ancelotti’s fault. The Italian may not have the opportunity to put things right in 2015-16 and will probably take the blame for Madrid’s disappointing decline in the second half of 2014-15, having racked up a record 22 victories in a row before Christmas.
“I give my thanks to the players,” Ancelotti said afterwards. “There is no point talking about the future now. We have two league games left and we have to finish the season as well as we can. Then we will talk about the future.” And he added: “I would like to stay.”
But whether he stays or goes, there is plenty to address at Real right now – be it for Carlo or yet another new coach. Back to the drawing board.