NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
When Real Madrid thumped Barcelona 5-1 across the two legs of Supercopa De Espana, the headline read: “Barcelona in Tatters, Madrid and their young superstars could rule Europe for years to come”. Fast Forward to 2018 and the headline reads a lot different. Dumped out of Copa Del Rey at home by Leganes, trailing Barcelona by 9 points in the league and finding themselves at 4th spot in the La Liga table; the fall from grace has been a steep one for Zinedine Zidane's men indeed.
While much has been said about the dip in form of Madrid's frontline, the team in whole has looked bereft of ideas and confidence on the pitch. Zidane faces the axe in the summer with Perez already scouting an able replacement. But, are Zidane and Ronaldo the only ones to be blamed?
The European Champions' first eleven is the same group of players that dispatched four past one of the best defenses in the world. They stole Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos from under the noses of their rivals and beat them comprehensively at the Nou Camp 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup. Yet the same eleven was responsible for the 3-1 humbling at Wembley against Tottenham and 2-1 loss at home to lowly Leganes.
Madrid's long list of injuries this season include Marcelo, Casemiro, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Raphael Varane, Mateo Kovacic, Keylor Navas and Dani Carvajal. Bale in particular has been sorely missed. Astonishingly the Welshman has 11 goals in his last 13 games with seven goals and four assists but has only been on the pitch for 886 minutes this season.
The injury to Raphael Varane means Nacho regularly finds himself at Centre-Back and although the Spaniard has all the tools to cut it at the top level, his partnership with Sergio Ramos has never seemed convincing enough.
Dani Carvajal is another glaring miss for the Los Meringues. Sidelined due to a heart condition, his absence has put the onus on 18 year old Achraf Hakimi to take on his mantle which let's be honest, he is clearly not ready to stake a claim for. Last season they had the likes of Pepe and Danilo plying for a permanent spot which brings us to the next issue.
Pepe, Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, Danilo and Mariano Diaz were the notable departures from the Bernabeu this summer. The sale of Morata and Diaz in particular has hurt them with Benzema and Borja Mayoral the only recognized center forwards to call upon for Zidane. Add to that the turbulent form of Benzema and Ronaldo infront of goal and their summer appears as the powder keg of implosion that has taken place at Madrid.
The goal scoring exploits of Rodriguez would have been a welcome sight if not of his falling out with Zizou. Danilo never seemed assured enough, however the sight of Achraf Hakimi getting dismantled against Spurs was indeed a sore one for Madrid fans. The youngster has been criminally thrown at the deep end of the action when a more gradual integration would have been the way forward.
Isco and Marco Asensio are not reliable infront of goal and the lack of goalscorers other than Ronaldo is hurting them. The Portuguese is an all-round poacher and thrives on service from his team but is not the creator many expect him to be. In 2016/17, he was at his lethal best, scoring for fun, getting at the end of crosses or thundering one from 30 yards.
2017/18 has not been kind to him. A little more luck and this article might have so easily been about the race for the La Liga title. However, the promised rich vein of form has failed to materialise as Ronaldo finds himself staring down an exit come this summer. While rivals have been quick to point out his selfish and inept team-player qualities, the World Player of the Year has a knack of bouncing back in style.
The combination of Marcelo and Dani Carvajal contributed to 16 goals last season with the Brazilian in particular forming a devastating partnership on the left hand side with Ronaldo. A reminiscence of what Nolberto Solano and Alan Shearer were for Newcastle back in the day, the duo combined to torture La Liga defences with the number 7 feasting on Marcelo's crosses and the left back ending the season with 10 assists.
Their attacking prowess was a big reason behind Madrid banging in the goals. Not the best defensively, Carvajal and Marcelo's attacking product has declined leading to the focus shifting to their defensive contributions which in all fairness has never been a strong point. The picture of Kieran Trippier getting the best of Marcelo at Wembley comes to mind here. Although the Spanish right back may have something to say about that.
The under fire manager has enjoyed unrivaled glory in his time at the helm of Los Blancos but now he faces the biggest test of his short managerial career. The team looks torn between focussing on a counter attacking game or an intricate pass and move one, often ending up achieving neither.
Ronaldo looks out of touch and Isco's position in the team is uncertain. His reluctance in making substitutions has cost the team on more than one occasion now but with the lack of able performers to call upon, can he really be blamed? Perhaps an appropriate metric would be his tactics against Barcelona at home, which went awry to say the least.
It is not in the DNA of Fiorentino Perez to persist with an under-performing manager and come July it would be no surprise if the legendary manager gets sacked. Champions League is the last remaining avenue for Zidane to reclaim lost ground.