x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Submarines look to keep Real in at the deep end

The adage of a team only being as good as their last result is never more true than at Real Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo was asked to deliver the team's message after Real's defeat to Lyon.
Cristiano Ronaldo was asked to deliver the team's message after Real's defeat to Lyon.

The adage of a team only being as good as their last result is never more true than at Real Madrid. On Monday, they were praised for closing the gap on Barca at the top of the Primera Liga to just two points. Kaka was lauded for his increasing influence alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and optimism coursed through the veins of those circling planet Bernabéu. There was quiet satisfaction, too, that Barca's injury crisis was deepening after they had lost for the first time this season.

On Tuesday, Madrid were beaten 1-0 away at Lyon in the Champions League last 16, a stage they have been unable to pass in the past five years. That is five years in which Madrid have worked through eight coaches, a ridiculous statistic that undermines their position which should be among football's most coveted. The defeat in Lyon brought all Madrid's insecurities flooding back as the team did not play well, looked nervy and were fortunate to only lose by a goal.

"1-0 and thank you," was the headline in Marca, noting that it could easily have been a three or four-goal defeat against a side expected to cave in - despite performing better than their illustrious opponents in the Champions League over the past half decade. The media bleated that this was not the dream which Florentino Perez had sold to fans, losing to teams from supposedly lesser footballing nations, a side who had been comprehensively routed by Barca a year ago. Madrid's substantial publicity machine duly rolled into action. With political undertones, their official website even quoted former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan saying: "We should use the past as a trampoline and not as a sofa."

They trotted out their key personnel to deliver the same anodyne and right-on message, starting with Ronaldo. "We are sure we will respond well in the return leg and win," said the Portuguese winger. "We need to be in top form from the moment the match kicks off until the final whistle is blown. We will take to the pitch with the will to win and we will prove that we can in our home." Madrid will be forgiven for their sin of losing a football match, but heaven forbid the consequences if Lyon have the audacity to knock them out on March 10 at the Bernabéu, the venue for the final which some in the Spanish capital think is their divine right to win.

Madrid were then reported to have approached Jose Mourinho with a view to him becoming their next coach. There was nothing official, just the cloak and dagger, smoke and mirror tactics which surrounds a club perpetually surrounded by political manoeuvrings. It starts with a name being leaked to test public opinion. Fortunately for Pellegrini, 78 per cent of Madrid fans polled by one Spanish newspaper said that they do not want the "Special One" and that their current Portuguese coach deserves time to do the job he has started.

Such goodwill is worth around three results but would rapidly disappear if Lyon win. Madrid are back in league action with a home game against Villarreal tonight. Given that they have won all their 11 home league games so far and that the ninth-placed Villarreal have triumphed just once in their 10 away games this season, the result is seen as a formality. Yet, the Yellow Submarines have managed a draw in Barca's Camp Nou and possess players capable of causing an upset. The consequences would be unthinkable in the capital.

sports@thenational.ae Real Madrid v Villarreal, KO Midnight, Aljazeera Sports +2