x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Real Madrid are sound in defence but quiet in attack

Levante cost less to assemble than what Cristiano Ronaldo earns in a season, yet Real Madrid failed to breach their defence.

Sound in defence but quiet in attack Levante may be €61 million (Dh302m) in debt, but they did not cut back on commissioning lavish plaques for their 34-year-old president to present to Real Madrid's World Cup winners Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos before Saturday's match. If Valencia's second club were seeking to ingratiate themselves with the grandees of Spanish football in the hope that they would go easy on them, it was a successful tactic.

Levante are a promoted side comprised of free signings and loan deals. They cost less to assemble than Cristiano Ronaldo earns in a season, are favourites to go down and have the worst defence in the Primera Liga, yet Real failed to breach it in a 0-0 draw - the second time they have recorded such a scoreline in their three away games so far. Real peppered the Levante goal but, as in the Mallorca game a month ago, they failed to score. So what's going wrong? What makes Real's six goals from 105 shots the worst percentage in the league?

Ronaldo has taken an astonishing 43 of those shots and is Real's top scorer with a paltry two. Kaka and Karim Benzema, two big-name signings from last season, are all but out of the equation. The Brazilian is injured and has not started a match this season, the French striker has started just once. Despite having 15 shots in five games, Gonzalo Higuain has bagged a solitary goal, while new signings Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira have not netted either.

Higuain, Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria all came close against Levante, but close is not good enough when you are expected to win every game. Real spent €80m on attacking players in the summer and over €200m last year. Scoring was not a problem last term, but it is now under Jose Mourinho. One fear fans had when Mourinho's name was linked with the Bernabeu was a defensive football mantra at odds with the club's attacking philosophy.

His appointment seemed an uneasy fit, but his outstanding record of success saw him win the job. The same Mourinho cut an unhappy figure at Levante and eight teams have scored more than Real's six goals. In mitigation, Mourinho's charges boast the best defence in Spain, with just that single goal conceded against Real Sociedad. He also builds teams from the back, but Real's front end was never anticipated to be a problem.

"We've had eight clear opportunities but we haven't scored," Mourinho said after the Levante draw. "We've controlled all the games, haven't had tactical problems and have been defensively solid. We always want to win but if you don't score you don't win." Mourinho complains teams do not want to play against them and play too defensively. Teams have historically played this way against Real and Barcelona. So it is up to the giants to crush the ants, but as Levante's president observed after the game: "This result proves that money doesn't speak in football."

Barca's defeat to Hercules and Real dropping points has made the Primera Liga refreshingly open with Valencia the early leaders, but Real's players remain confident. "We weren't able to hit the target, but I doubt it's a problem this team is going to have often," said Arbeloa. "We have a lot of talent in attack. Levante fell back to defend at the very beginning, and attacking that kind of defence is very difficult. I am convinced we will score a lot of goals. We are all performing well on defensive duties.

"Playing for Madrid is one of the most demanding jobs there is, but we are doing everything we can to improve." They might, but more pressing is whether Real can score, starting with tonight's game against a struggling Auxerre in the Champions League. The French side might want to consider commissioning some plaques. 

sports@thenational.ae