Despite all the money, stars, Galacticos and big names, Real Madrid have been a one-man team for the last few years. Relying completely on Cristiano Ronaldo is something that hasn’t won the club too many titles since his arrival, and Gareth Bale is supposed to end that unhealthy dependency.
Even on bad days, Ronaldo is worth a goal or two. It’s rare to see him not take five-six shots at goal each match. It’s simply impossible to deny him those chances, but it is possible to affect the quality of shots he takes, and altering his preferred position from where he takes them.
Borussia Dortmund are a perfect example of how to do it well, but very few teams can defend the counter attack and the wing as well as Dortmund do. Barcelona, during Ronaldo’s early seasons in Spain, were another team that showed a very successful blueprint to cutting off Ronaldo from the rest of his teammates, and forcing him to try and win the match on his own, while going up against two players at all time.
Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria. They were enough for one championship and no Champions League finals. When the big moments usually came, teams clamped down on Ronaldo. He still might have gotten a goal out of it, but in those matches it was up to Ozil (now he’s gone) and the rest to step up and make the most of the chances given to them. It’s been the same story for Barcelona over the last couple of seasons, with Lionel Messi shut down in certain matches, and no one to step up to the plate and deliver instead of him.
The Villarreal match was a good example of Real Madrid in its new era not functioning when Ronaldo isn’t doing well. The Portuguese winger was busy trying to win his one on one battles instead of helping his team out. He barely raised his head to see who is open as he moved from the left to the middle, predictably. His only game came from sheer luck, as it bounced off his knee and into the goal. When Ronaldo is doing badly and he isn’t trying to shake off his bad day by trying to be more active in the passing game, Real Madrid are a weaker, almost crippled team.
Gareth Bale might inherit Ronaldo’s place one day, even though Ronaldo signed a new contract. At some point, a decline will begin and Bale is the one Real Madrid are hoping to see step up and take Ronaldo’s share of the load and goals. Bale is another player who is very hard to completely deny chances from. He is so physically gifted that by sheer speed and force alone he should get himself a few chances each match, even if things aren’t working on a team level.
But Real Madrid need to evolve into a team that doesn’t rise & fall on the mood and ability of just one player. Bale makes it very problematic for a midfield to help out its full backs on two wingers who are impossible to stop in one on one situations. It’s doable, but it forces sides to completely neglect the middle, leaving space for Isco, Benzema and Modric. Maybe by finding the closest thing there is to Ronaldo in terms of physical dominance to play on the opposite wing, Real Madrid have solved their problem of being too dependent on the second best player in the world.