Being this already a season to forget, Real Madrid will enter the field on Saturday at Santiago Bernabéu with a modest concern. A win over Sevilla guarantees the third position for Los Blancos, a place they must keep in order to make the history books less harsh about the club’s most ridiculous campaign in the last twenty years.
With the 1-0 defeat to Leganés last Wednesday, in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, Santiago Solari’s side registered it’s 10th loss this season – ironically on the same day the eternal missing Cristiano Ronaldo conquered his first trophy in a Juventus jersey.
To find so clumsy a year, one needs to go back to 1998/1999, when they ended in second position, being beaten 12 times in La Liga. At the end of the season, coach Guus Hiddink was replaced by John Toshack. But the thing about this Real Madrid is that some triumphs are as shameful as their losses.
Everyone that saw the 2-1 win over Real Betis last Sunday is aware that Quique Setien’s side was far superior for the whole of second half, and Ceballos’s decisive free-kick in injury time was an undeserved rabbit from the top hat, to say the least.
As the stars fell short, the burden is on the shoulders of young, promising players. In the last decade or more, you could hardly remember a season with so many unbranded, Spanish names, as Nacho, Reguillón, Ceballos, Valverde and Odriozola. Against Leganés, wonderboy Vinicius Junior replaced Karim Benzema as #9 and seemed uncomfortable with less space to dash and dribble.
On Sunday, Vinicius had a fiery first half, with dazzling speed and amazing passing, although he spent the final period being easily dominated by French defender Marc Bartra. Whatever news the medical department may bring from Asensio, Gareth Bale, Benzema or Mariano Díaz in the weeks to come, the Brazilian bullet is not to be left on the bench for tactical reasons.
With so many injuries cursing his forwards and a heavy calendar to face this month, Santiago Solari made an intelligent decision with Reguillón as left fullback, leaving Marcelo in a more creative role – I am a long time supporter of this idea. However, there is no doubt the number 12 is having his worst season ever at Real Madrid, his physical and mental condition seeming far from ideal.
Right behind Vinicius, Isco was given a new chance by his nemesis Solari as a false-nine. But their soap opera had a new episode, as the coach could not stretch a hand to him after ordering his substitution. Spanish media have repeated that scene more times than Braithwaite’s goal for Leganés, so it’s not hard to have a grasp of the tension inside the locker room.
In order to take the third place, Real Madrid needs to win against a hardworking Sevilla team. Last Wednesday, Pablo Machín’s side advanced to the Copa del Rey semifinals after presenting dull football in Bilbao against Athletic. The Andaluzians have not won in the last three La Liga matches, having tied with Leganés and Atlético de Madrid and losing 2-0 to Athletic.
But Machín spared some of his key men from playing 90 minutes in recent matches, so it is expected that midfielder Sarabia and forward André Silva will be in the starting line-up at the Santiago Bernabéu. Considering all problems surrounding Solari’s Madrid, a draw would not be bad news at all.