Before the final whistle had sounded, the brow-furrowing and hand-wringing and calls for Carlo Ancelotti’s head had already begun. Real Madrid, looking less than resplendent in their hot pink away kits, were staring at a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad – a team they beat 9-1 on aggregate last year and a team they had not lost to since 2004. Just two matches into the season, the outlook in Madrid seems to have taken a drastic turn southward. Adding James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos in the offseason had Real fans dreaming of a triple. Now, after the Sociedad loss and an unimpressive opener against promoted Cordoba, clouds have started to form over El Bernabeu.
The question now remains – are the clouds here to stay, or is it merely a storm passing through? Luckily for Madrid fans, Los Blancos’ rough start is most likely an aberration – a result of the team working to gel with new additions Kroos and Rodriguez, while coping with the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and the departure of Xabi Alonso. Rome was not built in a day, and sporting empires are not typically built in a single match.
The biggest problem facing Madrid is luckily one that will eventually come to pass, and that is Ronaldo’s flagging health. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Rodriguez are three of the best strikers in the world, yet they are not Ronaldo. When a team is built around a talent as transcendent as Ronaldo, no amalgam of players can compensate for his absence. As well as Bale and Benzema played during Madrid’s title run last year, they were playing with Ronaldo most of the time. Bale and Rodriguez are both insanely promising talents, yet they are both still young and need more time to develop into the kind of strikers that and offense can be built around. Until Ronaldo returns to full health, this is not the same side that looked so dominant last year.
While that problem will eventually solve itself, the other problems facing them are more permanent. The first is the departure of Alonso to Bayern Munich. This is mitigated by the earlier arrival of Kroos, who is highly talented and eight years younger. However, while Kroos is probably a more talented midfielder, he lacks the experience and intelligence of Alonso. Although Ronaldo is the club’s leading player, Alonso was the heart and soul of Real for the past five years. That cannot be replaced immediately, and it it will take time for the team to figure out who they are now that the former Liverpool man is gone. For the meantime the side’s raw talent should be enough to compensate for the loss of Alonso. A combination of veteran leadership from Ronaldo and Iker Casillas should also help.