A Real Madrid viral is pinging around Barcelona fans. It shows the fourth official holding up the board for added time during a Real Madrid game.
The board doesn’t say two minutes or for minutes. It says: “Until Madrid score.”
The cynicism is understandable. A 96th minute penalty awarded against Elche two weeks ago was given after a player didn’t pull Pepe down. Even the referee’s chief admitted that the man who gave it “maybe wasn’t in the right frame of mind.” Ronaldo scored, Madrid won and Elche were robbed. Late and not so great.
On Saturday, Madrid were 2-1 down after 89 minutes when young locally born striker Alvaro Morata, who’d replaced Karim Benzema, equalised at Levante. A late draw snatched at a stadium where Madrid usually struggle would have been gratefully received, but Madrid didn’t draw. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a 94th minute winner. The match-winner did what few can do.
There was none of the scandal that had greeted the dubious winner down the road at Elche, but Madrid are leaving it late too often. They’re not playing well and doubts have arisen about Carlo Ancellotti, who has been in the job three months. He told fans that he’d play entertaining football. The fans are still waiting to be entertained.
“When are we going to start, Carlo?” asked the headline in Marca after Madrid lost at home to Atletico last week, the first time their neighbours had won a league derby this century.
Headlines may suggest otherwise, but Real Madrid are not in crisis. With six wins and a draw from their opening eight matches, they’d be top of the English Premier League. Except they’re in Spain, where Barça and Atletico have won all eight games and opened up a five point gap. That’s likely to be eight points if Barca beat Madrid in their next home game, the first Clasico of the season, which is on October 26.
Despite signing Gareth Bale for a world record transfer fee, Madrid are lacking intensity and are defensively suspect. Ancellotti has said it.
Their players don’t look as fit as their opponents. Bale has played just 132 minutes. He’s back in full training as most of his team mates leave for international football. They’ll need an in-form Bale against Barcelona and Juventus.
Players are reportedly not happy that Mesut Ozil was sold to Arsenal.
“Arsenal are now the best team in the Premier with Ozil,” said Sami Khedira.
Fans have turned on Khedira, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Coentrao for their performances, their poor passing in a team which has yet to find its identity under their new boss - who came from Paris St Germain to replace José Mourinho - or its style of play. The fans had already lost patience with striker Karim Benzema, whom they feel has a poor attitude and who hasn’t fulfilled his potential since arriving from Lyon in 2009.
Ancelotti’s changing formations and substitutions have baffled throughout the season, but he got it right on Saturday, by introducing Morata and Jese, the two brightest home-grown prospects promoted from the B team. Jese replaced Benzema, Morata came on for Isco. They changed the game and were both involved in the late goals.
The man with the "Morata. Jese. Ya!" ("Morata. Jese. Now!") placard in the Bernabeu last week had a point. 92 per cent of 30,000 Madrid fans polled want Morata in the starting XI ahead of the president’s man, Benzema.
Only Ronaldo and Benzema have started every game this season, and fans feel that the young talents deserve a chance and should not be sold, like so many promising Madrid youngsters before them. Barca fans even joked that Morata would be sold to Getafe at last season’s mini-Clasico.
Benzema? He’s started every game. He works hard for the team, he works hard for Cristiano Ronaldo, he just doesn’t score enough. Two goals is a poor return for a central striker at Real Madrid. Ancelotti has been advised by directors to protect the under-fire players from the public.
“We’re not playing well and many things are missing,” said Ronaldo last week, “but there’s no reason to become too dramatic.”
Madrid’s sparkling stars may have cost more than at any club in the world, but have yet to properly gel. That’s understandable given a new coach who promised entertaining football (and has yet to deliver) and the new players need to bed in, but third in Spain may as well be 18th for Madrid, especially if rivals Barca and Atletico are one and two.
With one league title in his seven years in charge, there is growing criticism of Florentino Perez, the club president who decides which lavish signing will be next and who'll be sold. Many are saying that he’s returning to the poorly-regarded and trophy-lite excesses of the Galacticos era a decade ago. Big names don’t equate to big hauls of silverware.
Madrid have some of the best attackers in the world and when they combine, as in their opening Champions League game when they beat Galatasaray 6-1 in Istanbul, it can be magical.
Yet last week Atletico boss Diego Simeone found a system to block their counter-attacks. That historic derby defeat was the first time Madrid hadn’t scored in a home game since a goalless draw against Valencia in the 2011-12 season.
Madrid will be there or thereabouts, like they are every year. They’ll beat any team in the world when they play well, but that’s just not good enough for a club who buy the best and expect the best.