Real Madrid are plagued by set-piece sickness

Jose Mourinho's men have conceded an alarming number of goals from dead ball situations. looks into it...
 Kishen Patel
 Spanish Inquisition
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Almost half the goals Real Madrid have conceded this season have come from a combination of free-kicks and corner-kicks. It is hard to believe that a team like Madrid having a good aerial dominance in the field can be so susceptible.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Mourinho’s men have always struggled to clear balls into the box. In the 1-0 defeat to Sevilla, Piotr Trochowski shouldn’t have ever got that amount of space inside the box to dispatch his shot, that too in the second minute of the game. In the home game against Manchester City, Madrid’s defense failed to clear the danger from Aleksandr Kolarov’s free-kick and the ball crept inside the far post without any attacker or defender getting a touch on it. Though Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliance saved the Blancos in that match, the weakness was evident.

It looked as if Madrid hadn’t learnt from their mistakes as they allowed Ajax's Nicklas Moisander to score a consolation goal from a corner at the Amsterdam Arena. The player guilty that time was Iker Casillas, arriving late to stop the threat at the far post.

Manucho twice scored against the capital club from corners in the away game against Valladolid. The first goal was a horrendous defensive error where none of the Madrid players tried to clear the danger and Manucho swept home from close range. The second one was a result of Manucho outmuscling Sergio Ramos at the near post and getting a free header to score. These are school-boy errors and should be avoided.

Pointing fingers at each other? Ramos and Casillas debate who was responsible

Juan Albin scored a late equalizer after Madrid again failed to clear their lines leading to a goal mouth scramble. Ironically, the Merengues dominated Espanyol by winning 63% of the aerial challenges on Saturday night.

Madrid’s problem is the consistent individual lapses in concentration at the back which has cost them dear this season given that their strikers haven't always bailed them out always. Sergio Ramos doesn’t offer enough composure throughout the match as other world class defenders like Thiago Silva would do. The Sevilla youth product needs to stay focussed and look assured in all matches. 

Pepe isn’t as effective in defending set-pieces as much he is in attacking them at the other end. The big Portuguese centre-back needs to buckle up and start “using his head.” He isn’t using his physical abilities to the best if he fails in clearing the danger from corners.

What needs to be done now? Clearly Mourinho has a lot to think about how to prevent corner-kicks from somehow ending up in Casillas’ goal. This will be a challenge for the ‘Special One’ as he needs to devise a plan.

Critics would also point fingers at Iker Casillas not being proactive by coming off his line and taking charge of the ball. He looks shaky while coming to claim crosses and punching out balls. He can be blamed for failing to organise his defenders ahead of him. It's more like him “not packing a punch” and his clearances barely relieve the pressure. Maybe he has been bit by the complacency bug and Madrid can probably sign a budding new keeper who’d keep the “Saint” on his toes for a place in the starting eleven, which is the case for him in the Spanish national team where the likes of Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and David de Gea are breathing down his neck.

Another option which Mourinho could resort to is by handing a start to Raphael Varane. With his introduction, Ramos can be shifted back to his right back role and can assist going further better than Alvaro Arbeloa can. The young French defender stands at 6’3”, is very composed on the ball despite his young age and extremely good in the air. Moreover, in the seven full matches the Frenchman has featured in, Madrid have not conceded a goal from a corner-kick or an indirect free-kick.

The pressure is on Mourinho to bring Madrid back on track and achieve at least a “respectable” position on the league table. If they do harbour any hopes of winning the Champions League, this is an are which they need to buck up as soon as possible, else 'La Decima' wouldn't be realised this season. Their defensive form might give the Portuguese some sleepless nights and he does need to perk up his players. With rumours of dressing room egos and board room tiffs, set-piece sickness is the last thing that Mourinho needs. In dire times, the ‘Special One’ has always taken action, often boldly…

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