Another Impressive Scoreline Conceals Real’s Frailties
Real Madrid 5-0 Xerez
1-0 Ronaldo, 1′
2-0 Ronaldo, 75′
3-0 Guti, 78′
4-0 Benzema, 82′
5-0 Van Nistelrooy, 89′
Real Madrid moved to the top of the table Sunday, ahead of Barcelona on goal differential, after a 5-0 rout of Xerez that was a more difficult affair than the final score might indicate. Cristiano Ronaldo netted a second straight brace for his new club and did all the meaningful scoring, giving Real the two-goal cushion upon which they built their late-game goal flurry. Yet even with all the talent in the world – quite literally – wearing white on the pitch, many questions remain for Madrid after a win that was less dominating than one would expect against a newly promoted side.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the quarter of a billion Euros splashed out this summer, Real took the better part of 90 minutes to finally click as a team. Last week I railed against their defensive miscues, but a similar charge can be leveled against their offense, which continues to rake in the goals despite playing a haphazard, individualistic style of football. After Ronaldo scored on a zinger in the first minute, Madrid appeared to go into hibernation for the next 70+ minutes, creating little more than moments of individual brilliance in the midst of mediocre play. Xerez just kept plugging away, little engine that could style, and their midfield did a commendable job of jamming up the works and preventing Madrid from ever finding a rhythm. With no Xabi Alonso to pull the strings in midfield, Real were left with Gago and Lass playing the double-pivot and little creativity flowing from the midfield.
As much was made clear when Pellegrini yanked Raul and Kaka in favor of Granero and Guti, leaving CR9 to partner Benzema as the two out-and-out strikers. All of a sudden the ball was moving more fluidly and play was built up from the midfield to create opportunities for the attacking players. Xerez clung to the one-goal deficit for a surprisingly long time, and the Andalucian side even had a number of chances to tie the game. Their failure to provide any quality service into the box was eventually their undoing, though, and with a quarter of an hour remaining Ronaldo skied in the box to head home Granero’s corner and secure the victory.
After that, the floodgates opened. Benzema whiffed at the ball, missing it completely about eight yards out, leaving it for Guti to clean up and smash past Xerez keeper Renan. The young Frenchman got his shortly thereafter when he drove up the lefthand side, juked the defender out of position just enough, and then blasted a left-footed shot into the net for 4-0 and his first regular season goal with Real Madrid. Even Ruud Van Nistelrooy got in on the act two minutes from time, scoring Real’s fifth on a slotted shot that nutmegged the keeper and rewarded the standing ovation he got from the fans on his introduction.
It was an amazing final fifteen minutes that displayed, in a brief flourish, all that these new-look Galacticos are capable of. But the other 75 minutes painted a more worrying picture, one of a team still struggling to find itself amidst all the new signings and suffering some growing pains in the process. Xerez didn’t possess enough threats to really test them defensively, but in the absence of defensive pressure their offense showed its own lack of fluency for much of the game. Unlike the team’s defensive troubles, though, I’m not exceedingly worried about these offensive hicc-ups. They will be worked out, and in much less time than it will take to get the back line in order. And until all those kinks are ironed out, there will always be a Cristiano or a Kaka or a Benzema etc. etc. to pull another rabbit out of the hat to save them. Today, there were five rabbits to be found, four of them in quick succession, in the dispatching of Xerez. A bit more consistency and a lot more fluency will go a long way toward calming the nerves of the fans who expressed their anxiety as the lack of a second goal weighed heavier and heavier in this one. The goals will quiet the critics for now, but for the sake of La Liga I hope they find their game sooner rather than later.