COMMENT: The Blancos' 4-2 defeat at Real Sociedad has highlighted major flaws throughout the team, just three months after they won La DecimaBy Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The fuchsia looked bright. Real Madrid were all pretty in pink as they cruised into a two-goal lead at Real Sociedad in their new away strip on Sunday, but what came next was anything but that as the home side struck four times without reply to leave the visitors in utter chaos.
Madrid were without Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portuguese takes time out to fully recover from his knee problem, but barely noticed early on as Sergio Ramos headed home the opener and Gareth Bale added a superb second. Impressively, Carlo Ancelotti's side were making light of one of La Liga's most difficult fixtures.
But then it all went wrong. First, Inigo Martinez finished from close range at the far post from a corner and then David Zurutuza was left all alone to head home and level the scores before half-time. All of Madrid's good work was undone by the interval - and it was all their own fault.
Instead of reasserting themselves after the break, however, they collapsed. Zurutuza got in front of Dani Carvajal with Ramos in no-man's land to fire home a third for the Basques from a Sergio Canales cross with 65 minutes gone and Carlos Vela compounded Madrid's misery by blasting in from a corner after appearing to control the ball with his hand. Whether he did or not was irrelevant, though, because the visitors were well beaten by then anyway.
The four goals came from four crosses, two from set-pieces - an old problem for this Madrid team. And each time, goalkeeper Iker Casillas was rooted to his line. "We were negative in everything we did," the club captain said afterwards. "Horrible."
That was no exaggeration. But the dead-ball debacle is nothing new for Real and the skipper still seems to be suffering with fragile confidence from the Jose Mourinho era, when he was dropped, injured and then benched for the remainder of the Portuguese's final season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Now, there appears little or no communication between Casillas and his defenders at set-pieces and, given the team's inability to protect themselves in such situations, surely now is the time to try out summer signing Keylor Navas - La Liga's best goalkeeper last season and a man much more comfortable at dealing with crosses into his area.
As bad as Madrid were in defence, however, matches like this one are won and lost in midfield. And without Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria, respectively sold to Bayern Munich and Manchester United last week, Ancelotti's men were overrun. The Argentine's boundless energy would have been useful at both ends of the pitch, while the Basque would have brought better balance, provided protection and also attitude on his old stomping ground.
"This isn't a problem with just one player or another, but a general problem," Ancelotti said afterwards. "The team lost after a fantastic first half-hour. When there isn't a good attitude, it makes no difference if Xabi Alonso is there or not."
Alonso, however, is the type of leader who would not have allowed his team-mates to fold like they did on Sunday. In his absence, Toni Kroos looked uncomfortable in the role of defensive pivot, while Luka Modric and Isco offered little in the way of protection to their back four.
Further forward, Bale worked tirelessly and scored a wonderful goal, but James Rodriguez flattered to deceive once again and is still struggling to fit in following his summer move from Monaco, while Karim Benzema endured one of those nightmare nights when nothing at all goes right for him.
The transfer window slams shut on Monday and Madrid now look set to bring in Javier Hernandez on loan from Manchester United, a player who is unlikely to improve the team but should sell a few shirts and help the club in the Mexican market. Or that's the idea, anyway. No more arrivals are expected, but none should have been needed. Now they probably are.
If it ain't broke, the saying says, don't fix it. But Florentino Perez can't seem to help himself. Kroos and James are top players, but both will take time to settle into this team. With Di Maria and Alonso still at the club, they could have been eased in gradually. Instead, they have been thrown in at the deep end and Ancelotti has to find the balance again after fanning the flames from the Mourinho era to lead the club to their holy grail last term: La Decima.
The Italian's debut campaign was the club's most successful season in over a decade and should have brought stability, strength and calm. As chairman of a construction company, Perez should know all about the importance of firm foundations, but Madrid's movements in the transfer market mean they now have to rebuild all over again. The future, all of a sudden, isn't looking as bright at it should have.