For most of the La Liga, even when Cristiano Ronaldo is off his game, Real Madrid have plenty of firepower to come through. Lack of focus on away matches has cost them too many points so far this season, but after some early season drama, it seems that Mesut Ozil is becoming even better than ever before.
Even the remote chance of staying in the title race seemed over twice on Saturday evening at the Estadio Neuvo Jose Zorrilla, as Manucho put Valladolid twice in front, connecting on corner kicks. But an early goal from Karim Benzema and two from Mesut Ozil, including another fabulous free kick to give Real Madrid the win in the second half (fifth goal in 7 matches) put Real Madrid much closer to Atletico Madrid and somewhat to Barcelona, at least until the two get to play their matches later on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho has been under a lot of pressure lately, which after the win in the derby hasn’t ended the speculations about his relationship with those above him in the club and his next destination. By the first 45 minutes, it looked like all the news, lies and concealed truth do have some effect on his players. It seems that if not for the early exit of Patrick Ebert in the 30th minute, Real Madrid might not have gotten momentum back, and eventually the lead.
But there’s still a lot of confidence lacking on these away matches for Real. Playing attacking and free flowing football is hard for this team isn’t as easy as it should be, considering the personnel. Mourinho did throw in Angel Di Maria for the terrible Nacho, but he had no choice but to try and win the match. Luka Modric in for Alvaro Arbeloa was because he had no full backs on his bench.
Karim Benzema leaving the pitch for Raphael Varane was a decision that went against everything you think a better team should stand for: After putting on a very attacking lineup that got him a lead, Mourinho needed to push for another goal. Instead, he decided to pass the final 16 minutes with a more cautious approach. He did get the win, but it’s weird to see Real Madrid so withdrawn against such an opponent.
Is something happening to Cristiano Ronaldo? The opinions differ. On the surface, it looks like nothing has changed. He’s shooting at every opportunity he gets from long range; it’s just that his shots are being stopped, although he was clinical as ever in the 2-0 win against Atletico Madrid. Still, two goals in eight matches might not be only a case of bad luck and good goalkeeping.
Mourinho has been moving Ronaldo quite a bit in the front three, and it sometimes feels as if he’s not so comfortable switching roles instead of staying on his favorite left side. Especially when he’s used as a central striker, which is a good idea on paper, but looks like to be curbing his ability to find good shots and ones he likes taking.
Real Madrid probably won’t win the La Liga, but it’s not like they can give up on matches and completely set their entire focus on the Champions League. The defense has a problems with set pieces for quite some time. At some point, all the attacking talent in the world might not be able to stop them from having too difficult of a lead and team to chase.