Aside from the result itself, the biggest concern for Real Madrid to emerge from Sunday’s Clasico loss at Barcelona was the nature of their second-half performance.
In the opening period, Los Blancos played well. Although Barca enjoyed some periods in the ascendancy, so did the visitors and the half-time score of 1-1 was probably a fair reflection – although if either team deserved to be leading, it was Real following a particularly strong spell just before the break.
At times during that first half, Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked like the all-conquering record-breakers who demolished anything that was put in front of them during the autumn, when they chalked up 22 consecutive victories in mightily impressive style.
With Luka Modric back to control the tempo in midfield, Marcelo marauding dangerously from left-back, Gareth Bale performing with a disciplined balance between defence and attack, Karim Benzema roaming with classy intent and Cristiano Ronaldo all fired up, Los Blancos and their famed ‘BBC’ strike force were starting to resemble the team of old.
The opening stages of the second half were also encouraging enough, with Benzema forcing a decent save from Claudio Bravo, and the game at the Nou Camp was very much in the balance.
But then, somewhat against the run of play, Barca retook the lead through Luis Suarez and Madrid’s response – or, rather, their lack of one – was frightening.
It was as though a switch had been flicked and they had nothing left to give. Even though there was still more than half an hour remaining when Suarez struck, Madrid only once seriously threatened an equaliser over the entire remaining time when a hopeful shot from Benzema took a wicked deflection to draw an excellent save from Bravo.
Other than that, there was nothing. No concerted pressure, no late siege of Barca’s penalty area, not even hopeful balls into the box to force the hosts into alert defensive action – just a reliance upon Iker Casillas and wayward Barca shooting to prevent the margin of defeat from running much higher.
One particularly alarming statistic is the fact that Bale – who had played well if not spectacularly in the opening period – completed only two passes in the final half hour. For the most expensive player in the world, that is simply unacceptable.
Gareth Bale is doomed. Surely there’s no way he’ll be at Real Madrid next season. He’s been savaged by the Spanish press this morning.
— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) March 23, 2015
Not that Bale was alone in his ineffectiveness, with Ronaldo also fading from the game and Isco – so brilliant so often this season – failing to make an impact. Rather than a failure of individuals, Madrid’s final 30 minutes – as later noted by Modric – was a collective collapse, as they offered no conviction in their methods, with their attacks carrying a sense of hope rather than expectation.
This all reflects very badly on Ancelotti, whose days at the Bernabeu are starting to look numbered. Even if Madrid recover to finish the season with silverware, Ancelotti may well lack the energy to return to such a demanding, intense, and often downright irrational job for another year.
In his post-match press conference, Ancelotti, normally a positive presence, looked utterly drained. Mentally exhausted. The Italian looked – just as his team had on the pitch – as though he has nothing left to give. Expect a turbulent few months at the Bernabeu.