As Real Madrid stumble through the La Liga and lose the top spot, the Champions League has proved much easier, and the second leg of their knockout stage match with Schalke is nothing more than a chance for Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Carlo Ancelotti to get some pressure off their backs.
Bale has been targeted as the main person to blame for Real Madrid’s recent problems in form. He has scored just three league goals in 2015 and has looked selfish and inaccurate on most of his appearances. The return to a 3-man front hasn’t been kind to Real Madrid, struggling with Luka Modric and James Rodriguez out of the lineup.
Out of the trip, Karim Benzema seems to be the one getting the least amount of criticism. He might not be scoring goals, but he seems to be putting in an effort Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale aren’t. But is this true?
The big problem for Real Madrid in their last two matches (draw and a loss) which only in a club like Real Madrid and very few others around Europe can be categorized as a crisis has been the midfield. No link and build up play between that unit, with Toni Kroos and Asier Illarramendi playing below Isco, and the front three. Instead of switching it by using Sami Khedira and moving Kroos forward, Ancelotti expects his players to play in a more cohesive manner, although it’s quite clear he knows his tactics are part of the problem.
Ronaldo, unlike Messi, doesn’t thrive when dropping back to help the midfield or playing in a more central role. He isn’t the passer Messi is, and isn’t someone who can play in a large number of roles. He’s incredible efficient at one or two spots on the pitch, and isn’t going to change because Real Madrid are struggling. His style has brought him a certain level of success. Heading into the fourth decade of his life, he’s not going to alter what’s been working so well so far.
But it turns out that despite being an incredible individualistic player, Ronaldo does need some build play to help him find goals. This isn’t a case of a scoring drought. In Real’s last eight matches, Ronaldo has failed to register a shot at the target in four of them. For someone who often takes seven or eight attempts at goal in each match, that’s a whole new territory of being misused or simply playing badly.
There’s always pressure on a club like Real Madrid, but having a two goal advantage from the first leg in Germany should take some of it off. Maybe Ancelotti makes the changes everyone is begging him for. He has something to prove as well. But players, and especially superstars like Ronaldo always get a larger share of the blame, and this is an excellent opportunity for the Portuguese star to show he’s heating up just in time for the El Clasico.