The final face Real Madrid fans may want to see after the defeat to Man City midweek is that of Lionel Messi, who can effectively end their season.
There’s one outstanding question regarding Real Madrid before the Clasico on Sunday: Why are they emotionally broken?
It seemed that way during the last phases of their midweek Champions League capitulation against Manchester City , throwing away the lead and seeing skipper Sergio Ramos sent off for a cynical foul.
Memories flooded back of last year’s disastrous elimination by Ajax, which followed excruciating cup and league Clasico defeats by Barcelona. That week from hell ruined Madrid’s season and if Barcelona win this time they’ll move five points clear at the top of La Liga, with just a third of the effort remaining. Effectively six points, due to the head-to-head rule. It’s not an overstatement to suggest defeat, especially a resounding one, would crush Madrid.
They had been left with nothing to play in the last three months of last season, repeating the trick could be a profound humiliation.
“Psicosis Blanca,” ran a Marca headline. ‘White psychosis’, about this sort of seismic week. And that was before they dropped to Manchester City.
“The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu lost its fear factor some time back,” wrote columnist Raul Varela from the Spanish paper. “Whoever visits takes photographs, takes things and requires knock-out ties. Their signs of individuality have vanished and, if you include a surprising lack of character and temperament to that, there isn’t much else left.”
After Pep Guardiola’s see the previous face Real Madrid will have desired to see is that of Lionel Messi. The Argentine finished a minor goalscoring drought by smashing in four against Eibar last weekend since Barcelona moved top of the desk.
Ramos admitted Madrid players feel additional pressure playing at home and it’ll be particularly so given their recent results – drawing Celta Vigo and losing at Levante ahead of the midweek meltdown. “Occasionally the unease goes against us, but we are in debt to the lovers,” Ramos told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s an additional pressure that you carry by being a Real Madrid player.”
There might not be any club around the continent, which conveys more pressure in regards to the head coach position, even though the cool-as-ice Zinedine Zidane bears it well. Yet, even he’ll be perspiration come Sunday, and not only because it has been unseasonably warm in the Spanish capital.
Even Zidane, with his legendary status as a participant and remarkable three Champions League names in a row for a coach, could see his position under threat.
The Frenchman has come in for criticism on the rear of this City defeat, with his staff not threatening in the first half and just enjoying a period of approximately 15 minutes where they looked anything like their best. Some wondered why he dropped Toni Kroos and stuck with the 4-3-3 formation that has seen the defence shed its impenetrable aura.
Madrid were eliminated by Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey before in February, 4-1 down before pulling two goals back on and it was a warning sign of this rocky form ahead.
While it is now simple to breach Madrid’s rearguard, their attack is still floundering. Karim Benzema has two goals in 13 games, while the guy supposed to be his closest associate and partner in crime will overlook months with a new microfracture.
Eden Hazard, on whom Madrid lavished $100 million last summer, has hardly featured, coming unfit, getting injured on the eve of the year then picking up a three-month ankle fracture before this latest blow.
To make things worse, City coach Guardiola liberally dispensed advice on how his plotted Madrid’s downfall. “We decided to play with a proper striker due to the way Madrid shield,” said Guardiola. “They defend a distinctive way. They’re so aggressive, man-to-man in the goal-kicks, so high and when this occurs you’ve got to create the pitch broad.”
He talked of playing diagonals to elongate Madrid, not letting Ramos, Raphael Varane and Casemiro to demonstrate their strengths by feeding forward in the center. Barcelona can replicate that with Messi and Antoine Griezmann, although Ansu Fati’s rate may be more useful in broader areas.
What is more, Barcelona coach Quique Setien seen Guardiola in City’s hotel after the match and shared a glass of wine with the former Barcelona coach, based on Diario Sport – and possibly picked up a couple more detailed strategic secrets.
Zidane does not care; the trainer is always believed to be centered on his own side and less thoroughly concerned as some of his colleagues with competitions. “I see Sunday’s game as a chance for us to turn our fortunes around,” he said. “It’s a terrible moment for us, I agree, but on Sunday we’ve got an excellent opportunity to change that.”
The trainer is visualising a revindication, regaining pole position in the league, building morale for the second leg against Manchester City. And yet it may easily wind up in whistles, white handkerchiefs and chants for Florentino Perez to resign.
Both are plausible situations. That is why, even when the two sides are far from their best, countless millions the world over will still tune in to watch the Clasico. Madrid’s entire season is online.