What you’re watching is Real Madrid’s second goal against Copenhagen in an easy Champions League walkover for the Spanish giants. And it’s kind of ridiculous. Benzema back heels to Di Maria, who rabonas perfectly to a streaking Ronaldo, who heads home from close range. It’s everything good about the flair side of the game.
But it also illustrates a troublesome point about Real Madrid that came to the fore during a horribly lackluster 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in the league last weekend. Especially after Gareth Bale came on in the second half, Real Madrid controlled possession but was aimless with it. They weren’t able to counter and they weren’t able to sit on possession with any tactical congruity, and the attack duly suffered.
As much as this has been written over the past decade-plus, Real Madrid is still a team of individuals masquerading as a coherent side of world class teammates. They are teammates only in the strictest sense.
I love rabonas and stepovers and individual flair. I think it’s one of the best parts of the game. But that has to be married with some sort of tactical sense on a broader scale, and Real Madrid is still in the incubatory stages of figuring that out. When Bale was introduced last weekend, he played up top and drifted every which way without any seeming purpose. With Ronaldo occupying Bale’s natural position (and even Ronaldo sways violently between positions) Bale drifted in the way the lost do. It’s as though Madrid’s overseers gave no more thought to his transfer than his latent value with Spurs and assumed that would transfer to Spain somehow. I don’t know that it will.
In any case, Real Madrid will win a lot of games this year, but it will probably be by sheer force of talent as much as it will because they’re playing any kind of formation that makes sense. In this sense, the all-whites are still chasing their eternal foes to the east.