No Ronaldo, No Problem: Real Madrid and the Champions League
No Ronaldo No Problem (So Far) For Real Madrid
by Ivan Sanchez
This summer it looked like Real Madrid lost more than they gained. Head coach, Zinedine Zidane stepped down and global super star Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus. Real Madrid failed to sign a replacement for Ronaldo and lost the UEFA Super Copa 4-2 to city rivals Atletico Madrid.
Five games into the new year though and Real Madrid have three wins and a draw from their opening four La Liga games and kicked off their Champions League defense with a dominating 3-0 win over last year’s semifinalist, Roma.
What’s made new Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui get his team off to a great start after their preseason stumble against Atletico Madrid?
- He never coached Ronaldo, so he never had to adjust to coaching Real Madrid without Ronaldo. You can’t lose something you’ve never had in the first place.
- Real Madrid arguably still have the best player or at least top 3 in the world in their respective positions in the midfield and backline, along with now two of the top 7 goalkeepers in the world. In my opinion, Marcelo is the best left back while captain Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are the best centerback pairing. Casemiro is probably only behind N'golo Kante as one of the best defensive midfielders and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are one of the best midfielders.
- Lopetegui has not put all the burden of replacing Ronaldo’s production on just one player, instead Marco Asensio, Isco, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema have all taken the roles of stepping up their play. Bale and Benzema specifically have both enjoyed early season success without Ronaldo, as there is now more room to operate and move around for the duo, they can move into spaces that Ronaldo use to occupy and it shows as each have four goals in five games.
The Style of Play has Changed without Ronaldo
Real Madrid are still the most dangerous team in the world on the counter and open space, but now you see more interchanging within the forward line and the midfield. Benzema will drop back more, and midfield runs from Luka Modric and Isco are more apparent, as are passes in tight areas in the final third of the field.
It’s still early in the season, but worries of how Real Madrid would cope without their star have lowered. Others are stepping up, they’re still as talented as any team in the world and they’re still Real Madrid at the end of the day.
Ivan Sanchez-Carrasco is a football player, coach, writer and podcaster who covers local and international football with an emphasis on Mexico. He co-hosts the Your Soccer Passport podcast. If you enjoyed this intelligent analysis of the start of the Real Madrid season, you will enjoy the podcast as well. He has a lot of insight into what is happening with the USNMT and the Mexico national team. He also writes for the Vavel Sports Website on local soccer and international football. Ivan is the goalie for The Toffee League club The Outsiders. They made it to the final four in this year’s Toffee League tournament.