After two draws at the Santiago Bernabeu in the space of a week, the latest against promoted Levante, questions are being asked at Real Madrid. For example, was Zinedine Zidane too complacent? Did he not afford his opponents appropriate respect?
Though his rotation policy has worked well to this point, the last two games have been nothing short of a disaster. Real already find themselves four points behind leaders Barcelona after just three La Liga matches, the first time that the Catalans have had such a gap over their eternal rivals in 17 months.
Perhaps, the problem stems from Los Blancos believing their own hype. After two successive Champions League triumphs and enough points won in the last few minutes of matches to believe they’re somewhat invincible, taking their eye off the ball wouldn’t be that surprising.
But Zidane needs to take stock immediately, something that neither he nor the club would’ve expected. As a result, promises to players such as Dani Ceballos, Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Jesus Vallejo with regards to minutes on the pitch may have to be reneged upon.
That in itself could cause issues in the dressing room, something that the club thought they’d managed to rid themselves of once James Rodriguez had departed for Bayern Munich.
However, the youngsters will need to appreciate that such a scenario is for the greater good and that their chance will come. The ‘marathon not a sprint’ cliché is pertinent because once the Champions League kicks in again in earnest, Zidane will again need to reassess. For now, he’s left with little option than play his strongest XI in every game, in order to claw back the points they need to be able to draw level with Barcelona.
It’s no easy task however. Ernesto Valverde’s side have won all three league games without conceding and are not yet at their best. Espanyol came to the Camp Nou with just one win there this century and Valverde still decided to go with a strong XI, setting his stall out from the get go in 2017-18.
Zidane has accepted the plaudits that winning seven trophies in 18 months allows him, but now he must similarly take the criticism coming his way on the chin. Some might say that it’s an over-reaction after just three games, but they’re hard to please at the Bernabeu and dropping points at home against Valencia and Levante wasn’t in the script. The locals even booed and whistled the team when they were winning last season!
It’s the first time since 1995 that Real have failed to win their opening two home games. That season they only managed a sixth-place finish, some 17 points behind eventual champions Atletico Madrid, never recovering from a poor start.
Complacency is often the only thing that derails the ambitions of hugely successful teams so Zidane & Co. need to heed their early warning and do everything possible to ensure Real are swiftly back where they belong.