Ronaldo's form? Isco's position? Why Real Madrid are struggling at the Bernabeu

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
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Since the Spanish Supercopa, Los Blancos have beaten only APOEL and Espanyol at home in 2017-18. So what is behind their problems at home this season?

Real Madrid have a problem at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite possessing probably the strongest squad in world football and starting the season with a comprehensive 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa, Los Blancos have struggled since then when they have played at home.

Zinedine Zidane's side beat Barca 2-0 in the Supecopa second leg, boosted by a superb strike from Marco Asensio in the first few minutes of the game. When an early goal has not arrived, however, panic seems to set in.

Real 7/1 to beat Eibar 2-0

"It seems we become anxious if we don’t score an early goal [at the Bernabeu]," midfielder Isco said in September after Madrid lost 1-0 at home to Betis in La Liga, a result that followed back-to-back draws against Valencia and Levante in the Primera Division.

There was another draw on Tuesday night, as Tottenham held Real 1-1 in the Champions League and that means Madrid have beaten only APOEL (3-0) and Espanyol (2-0) at the Bernabeu since the win over Barca in August.

So where has it all gone wrong?

Real Madrid at home graphic

Anxiety could be part of the problem. An early goal always helps and Madrid's fans are notoriously impatient when their team is struggling, as are the supporters of most top teams.

Zidane's side drew 2-2 with Valencia in their first La Liga fixture, wasting chances aplenty in that match (Los Blancos had 29 attempts in total), Karim Benzema particularly culpable with two terrible misses. Valencia, however, have since shown that they are a team to be taken seriously in 2017-18; Marcelino's men are in second spot in the table and remain unbeaten after nine games.

Next up came the draw against Levante and that was much more disappointing. Without Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric, Madrid needed a goal from Lucas Vazquez to earn a point against the promoted side as Benzema went off with an injury, Gareth Bale missed a couple of decent openings and Marcelo was sent off at the end.

Ronaldo returned from his five-match suspension for the game against Betis, but was ineffective as Real lost 1-0 to Quique Setien's side at the Bernabeu. Earlier, he had scored twice in the 3-0 win over APOEL in the Champions League, but anything other than a victory against the Cypriot side would have been a huge shock.

Marcelo Real Madrid Levante


Ronaldo's absence definitely hurt the Spanish champions, while the Portuguese has not fully clicked back into gear since returning. The 32-year-old has only one goal in four games in La Liga and that came away to Getafe. He has netted five in the Champions League, meanwhile, and one in the Supercopa, but of the three he scored at the Bernabeu, two were penalties (one against APOEL and another versus Tottenham).

Benzema's poor form and subsequent injury meant Madrid were left without a centre-forward as well, following the departure of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea in the summer. The Spain striker chipped in with key goals last season, including several late winners, and he has been badly missed. For the former's part, the French striker has only scored two goals this season, and only once at the Bernabeu (versus Barca).

Isco, meanwhile, has earned rave reviews, yet the problem with the Spain star is how to fit him into the line-up. Zidane has set up this team to play 4-3-3 and sometimes the presence of Isco behind Ronaldo and Benzema leaves Madrid unbalanced in attack. On occasions, and particularly at home, Madrid may be better off with a player wide right to drag defenders away from the Portuguese and the Frenchman.

Bale is usually that man, but against sides defending deep, the Welsh winger is much less effective and he has shown this season at Borussia Dortmund and also Real Sociedad that he is much more effective away from home and also against teams who come out and play. On top of that, he is currently injured again.

Injuries to Bale, Benzema, Raphael Varane, Keylor Navas, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo, Theo Hernandez, Dani Carvajal and more have not helped this season and Zidane said on Saturday: "There is no explanation for so many injuries, but we will have all of the players in shape soon."

Alvaro Morata Deportivo Coruna Real Madrid LaLiga 26042017

On top of that, the needless red card picked up by Sergio Ramos at Deportivo meant Zidane was forced to play Casemiro at centre-back against Valencia (with Varane and Jesus Vallejo out), while Carvajal's heart problem has seen youngster Achraf Hakimi thrust into action at the tender age of 18. Nevertheless, Madrid should still have enough quality to be winning most of their matches at home.

Despite the presence of highly technical players like Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco and now Dani Ceballos, there is perhaps a feeling though that this team is still at its most comfortable on the counter-attack - especially when Benzema was out.

That is highlighted by the fact that Zidane's side have won all seven of their matches away from home so far this term in all competitions (against Manchester United, Barcelona, Deportivo La Coruna, Real Sociedad, Alaves, Dortmund and Getafe). At the Bernabeu, of course, many visiting sides are happy to defend deeper.

And there is another factor. In the current campaign, Real Madrid have failed to score a single goal from a header. Last season, Los Blancos claimed 40 goals from headers and at this stage, they had netted nine.

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid

In La Liga, Zidane's side have attempted 232 crosses already this season, at least 38 more than any other team. Usually, some of those would translate into headed goals, but not this time. Not yet.

In total, Real have scored just 15 goals so far in the Primera Division, conceding seven in their eight matches. By comparison, leaders Barcelona had netted 24 and let in just three before this weekend's action. So it is no wonder the Catalans have more points.

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"When you look at our results, we are not doing so badly," Zidane said on Saturday when asked about his side's poor form at home. "We are five points behind the leader, we are top in the Champions League and we have already won two trophies (the UEFA Super Cup and the Spanish Supercopa). Of course we can improve, and we will."

They should. Last season, Madrid could only draw 1-1 at home to Eibar, their rivals on Sunday at the Bernabeu. But a repeat of that result this time would see Los Blancos seven points adrift in La Liga after Barcelona beat Malaga 2-0 at Camp Nou on Saturday.

So if they are to have serious aspirations of retaining their Primera Division crown next May, it is time for Real Madrid to start winning at home again.