When Real Madrid were in the middle of their 22 match unbeaten run the plaudits couldn’t come thick nor fast enough.
The European champions were bowling over sides after a relatively uncertain start to the season and there were few who were playing down the theory that they could become the first team to defend the Champions League.
Fast forward to present though and an alarming cloud has settled over the Santiago Bernabeu, one that has combined a dip in the form from the usual irresistible Cristiano Ronaldo, allowed Barcelona to close the gap at the top of the table and even begged questions over the future of Carlo Ancelotti.
Based on tonight’s Champions League performance at home to Schalke the critics have every right to be sharpening their knives, and those seeking answers in the form of a tie that looked on paper done and dusted were made to swallow their expectations down fairly quickly.
4-3 to the away side was the final score, but had it not been for Ronaldo re-finding the brilliance he has forged a magnificent career on things could have been oh so different in the Spanish capital. To be fair to Roberto Di Matteo’s un-fancied Schalke side they came to attack and didn’t allow the odds to overwhelm them, but even so one gets the feeling their impressive showing was more down to Real’s deficiencies than their brilliance.
A 2-0 victory at the Veltins-Arena in February meant that Ancelotti’s men only needed to avoid a most shocking humbling on their own turf to ensure that they progressed to the quarter-finals. Yet they stuck to the pre-determined script about as well as if it had been written by a five-year-old.
All credit to Schalke must be awarded for their approach to the game, but in truth to watch his side concede four goals in such a sloppy manner will have Ancelotti wary of facing the juggernauts they could potentially come across in the next round. The loss tonight was an unpleasant surprise, what could come in the next round if ideas aren’t bucked is an embarrassment.
Putting it simply Real, debatebly as usual, relied on Ronaldo to push them over the edge. If the Portuguese forward hadn’t shown supernatural athleticism and awareness on two consecutive occasions after Schalke had upset the applecart by getting their own goals then chiefs at the Bernabeu might already be looking for Ancelotti’s replacement.
Need for change
They need to do far more defensively, that much is clear. Whilst their attacking panache never seems to waver, at the back they are alarmingly susceptible to calamitous breakdowns and without Sergio Ramos they lack any sort of leader. The Spaniard is no John Terry or Nemanja Vidic but he is at least a calming presence, and qualified as they are Pepe and Raphael Varane make for a poor partnership in his absence.
Moving onto the next round things need to change if Real are to have any hope of retaining the crown they won in such spectacular fashion last year. They have it within their squad to make the necessary improvements, but unless Ancelotti can steer his ship around sooner rather than later they might well be handed a reason to wish they’d been knocked out tonight rather than go on to be dispatched by a more accomplished opponent.
Real Madrid fans what do you think of tonight’s performance? Let us know in the comments box below...