By David Cartlidge (@davidjaca)
Maybe focusing on the blatantly obvious gives some comfort. Maybe it’s more to do with it simply being easier. Whatever the reasons are for the focus on Danilo at Real Madrid, the problems currently being encountered at the club don’t begin and end with him.
Wednesday evening presented an opportunity for Real Madrid to react to their worst performance of the season, a 2-1 defeat in the first leg against Celta Vigo. For the most part, they did not. A comeback was within reach, but they ultimately failed to do so. A strange feeling for Real Madrid, who have shown such sterling resilience under Zidane.
This time there would be no collective reaction, or Sergio Ramos heroics. Instead of taking a body blow, Real Madrid too a severe hit to the cranium. Celta, who were groggy for long periods themselves, dug deep to finish Zidane’s men off
When the Frenchman does wake up this morning one man will be thrust in front of him by fans and media; Danilo. He’d be the wrong one too. There are more glaring issues for Zidane to contend with.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s decline is in full swing, no matter how much you choose deny it. 2016 was a glorious year, his best. He scored a free-kick on Wednesday night too. It’s enough to convince yourself he’s still the same old Cristiano. He’s not, and at this moment, Real Madrid continue to function in a manner to extract the best from him - which is bad news for everyone. From to time cracks are papered over with award shows, penalties and hat-tricks against mediocre sides. But there is a motion Cristiano is going through right now that is at odds with Real Madrid’s own. His limitations, in how he can not generate chances or help with the transition of the attacking end of the team, hinder any system Zidane puts out. Cristiano will still score with some aplomb, that will never decline, but his other output has hit a wall.
While on the subject of the attack, there is the Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata dilemma. The Frenchman is given continuity because Zidane isn’t convinced by Morata, and justifiably so. Morata has been handed chances but ultimately brought nothing to the team. He’ll get more too and must step up because he moved back to Real Madrid for this. To compete, and be both the player to be called upon and one who could start. Benzema meanwhile isn’t doing what he did so well, and that’s help the attack function. He may not have scored, but at least he would’ve contributed in some regard. His movement, anticipation of others’ actions, was always delightful to watch. Right now, none of it is there.
These are the major issues Zidane must deal with, and manage. Injuries are beyond his control, and it’s no surprise Real Madrid are suffering given the extent of the damage to the squad right now. While it’s one of the best in the world in terms of quality and depth, it can still look light when it’s hit by such an unprecedented losses. Zidane’s barely had a full squad at his disposal this season, and has been undone by persistent squad niggles.
But it’s not only down to injuries. Zidane is continuing to learn on the job and with it their will be mistakes. The 4-3-3/3-5-2 hybrid was an attempt to drill through Celta from the middle, but they were met with high levels of pressing and resistance from Eduardo Berizzo’s side. Celta are a well drilled outfit under Berizzo, able to spring well on the counter and soak up pressure. They can use the ball impressively too, and did so when few teams cannot. It’s why they left Balaidos as victors. Zidane's making some key tactical errors too. His changes continue to be dubious and there is a notion he can react poorly in games that leaves him open to be outdone.
There was luck to Celta’s win, of course. But Zidane’s had plenty of his own and he won’t begrudge Berizzo a touch of it. But there is also credit due to the Galician side. Their identity, everything their coach has aimed to put across to his players since replacing Luis Enrique, was on display. Daniel Wass’ goal, was quite simply, the ultimate Berizzo-era Celta goal.
Real Madrid meanwhile still ride high and remain in contention for the top prizes, this is no crisis. It's not even a mini-crisis. An awakening might be more appropriate. Losing to Celta might even be looked back on as a positive, a learning experience.
A harsh lesson for Danilo? Absolutely. But he's not the only one that needs to learn.