Last year Real Madrid posted 100 points in league. They only lost once to somebody other than Barcelona. They won 32 of their 38 games and hosted a +89 goal difference.
This season El Real’s returned all their players and added Luka Modric and Michael Essien, yet they’ve lost at Getafe, Sevilla, Málaga, and as of Saturday, they’ve also lost at Granada. With 16 matches left in the season, Real has lost twice as many games as they did last year.
That increase by itself isn’t remarkable. When you’re dealing with as few losses as Real suffered in 2011-12, it’s easy to double a total. But whereas Málaga is a legitimately good team, Getafe sits 11th in Spain. Sevilla is 12th. Granada entered the day in 17th, two points above the drop. While these losses could be explained away if they happened to other teams, they were not what Real Madrid expected coming into the season. It’s certainly not what the most expensive squad in the world was assembled to produce.
Today’s 1-0 loss at Granada couldn’t have been a better (if overly reductionist) embodiment of Real Madrid’s problems. An early own goal from Cristiano Ronaldo was an example of the kind of variation teams should be equipped to overcome. In season’s past, that wouldn’t have been enough to dissuade Los Merengues from a rout. Today, a dispirited squad couldn’t muster the kind of dominance needed to knock the underdogs off their lead.
Real only put four shots on target. That used to be a half hour’s worth of work. Cristiano Ronaldo was the only starter to register a shot on goal. Despite holding 72 percent of the game’s possession, the team only played two successful through balls.
Those numbers are attempts to describe a match that would have seemed typical under other circumstances but was fully unbelievable in the context of Real Madrid. We’re used to teams having bad days, but today’s result was the latest on a list of inexplicable performances, some of which Real’s actually managed to win on talent alone. But today, we never saw a siege. There was no huge push. The greatest sparks of intensity were Ronaldo’s appeals for the officials to save them. None of the drive Real Madrid showed against Barcelona came with them from the Bernabeu.
La Liga was lost a long time ago. The key to Real’s season is Champions League, a competition that resumes in 11 days. If you’re in upper management at Real Madrid and want to give your club the best chance possible at claiming a 10th European title, what do you do? Do you stay the course and hope the team that played Barcelona is the one that will take on Manchester United? Or after seeing today’s disappointment on top of the squandering of the league season and the team’s earlier Champions League stumbles, do you say change — even for change’s sake — is good?
The current situation may not be José Mourinho’s fault — he seems to be undercut but an old guard at Real Madrid that lacks perspective on how much he’s improved the team — but if the Special One can’t guarantee he’ll consistently get more out of the team, you almost have to let him go. Perhaps you apologize to him while doing so, but you have to make a change.
It would be too much to say these results are inexplicable because there is an explanation: The players need to play better. But it’s unbelievable that they’re not.