Misfiring real a big worry

CSKA Moscow's Brazilian defender Rodrigo celebrating the opening goal scored by Croatian midfielder Nikola Vlasic during the Champions League Group G match against Real Madrid at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Tuesday.
CSKA Moscow's Brazilian defender Rodrigo celebrating the opening goal scored by Croatian midfielder Nikola Vlasic during the Champions League Group G match against Real Madrid at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pressure piles on Lopetegui after CSKA loss but he backs goal-shy Benzema to come good

MOSCOW • The last time Real Madrid went three games without a goal was in January 2007 and Fabio Capello was sacked at the end of the season.

Few deficiencies irk the Santiago Bernabeu faithful more than shyness in attack and, after an encouraging start under Julen Lopetegui, Real have since drifted off course.

Their shock 1-0 Group G defeat by CSKA Moscow on Tuesday left the European champions without a win in three games in all competitions, and there are already murmurings of unhappiness among Madridistas, who own the club and wield enormous influence.

Social media was rife with criticism with the loss in the Russian capital following a turgid goal-less draw against Atletico Madrid and a 3-0 thrashing by Sevilla last week.

To compound matters for the Real boss, the rumour mill went into overdrive over the weekend after Spanish daily Marca reported that club president Florentino Perez had met Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino at last week's Best Fifa Football Awards event.

With three defeats in just 10 matches, Lopetegui now has the unenviable record of presiding over the worst start in the Perez era.

The former Spain boss is also under pressure because according to widely respected Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, he was not Perez's first choice and was hired only after Perez had been turned down by Pochettino and Juventus' Massimiliano Allegri.

His players are also beginning to feel the heat, with Fifa Player of the Year Luka Modric admitting that the poor run of form has taken its toll on team morale.

"The atmosphere in the dressing room is not good," Golden Ball winner Modric told reporters. "When you do not score in three consecutive games, it is a bit of a worry."

MORALE AT A LOW

The atmosphere in the dressing room is not good. When you do not score in three consecutive games, it is a bit of a worry.

LUKA MODRIC, Real Madrid's newly crowned best footballer of the year, on the team feeling the heat for not scoring enough goals.

The dip, though, has barely made a dent, with Real still level on points at the top of LaLiga with Barcelona, while their double-header against Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen should go some way to ensuring qualification for the Champions League knock-out phase.

But there is concern about the team's bluntness up front, a complaint that instantly references the club's decision to sell Cristiano Ronaldo, and the failure to sign an elite replacement.

"Sindrome Cristiano," Spanish daily El Pais called it yesterday, with Real scoring four fewer goals than in their first two group games last season, coincidentally the number the Juve forward had by then.

Goalkeeper Keylor Navas admitted any club would miss Ronaldo after he had scored over 30 goals for nine straight terms, saying one "cannot cover the sun with your finger".

Yet, it was only a fortnight ago that Ronaldo's departure was being hailed as a boost to the confidence of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. While Bale was out injured, Benzema started and was made the captain too. But instead of shining, he was again underwhelming.

Lopetegui, however, refused to blame the striker, whose goal drought has now extended to six games in all competitions.

"We didn't have that bit of luck you need," he lamented, referencing the three times his side hit the woodwork and Toni Kroos' under-hit backpass, which led to Nikola Vlasic's second-minute winner.

"We have full confidence in him, strikers go in streaks. Scoring is not the responsibility only of Benzema. I'm sure that sooner or later, we'll start scoring."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2018, with the headline 'Misfiring real a big worry'. Print Edition | Subscribe