Champions League: Why are Real Madrid on the drift?

With Real Madrid now winless in three, Michael Lintorn tries to identify the causes of the mini-slump…

It isn’t often that a side drifts in the Champions League winner betting while confirming their place in the next round, though that’s what happened to Real Madrid – now 4.3100/30 joint-second favourites – after they snuck through despite losing 4-3 at home to Schalke.

That was their second defeat in four days and third consecutive game without a triumph, and all a month removed from a calamitous 4-0 derby reverse to Atletico Madrid.

In the space of two matchdays, Real Madrid have gone from four points ahead to one point behind Barcelona in La Liga, which they are now 2.486/4 to win.

Hardly anyone has been spared the wrath of the furious Bernabeu crowd – certainly not coach Carlo Ancelotti or Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo – and the whistling following the Schalke shambles was quite extraordinary.

Why are the reigning European champions suddenly struggling? Here are a few possibilities…

Ancelotti and the BBC

Many Real Madrid fans are convinced that the Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo trident (BBC – Bale, Benzema and Cristiano) often so devastating in the past 18 months is the root of the malaise. Interestingly, a poll revealed that they would rather see Bale or Ronaldo dropped over the less-lauded but at times more efficient Benzema, who isn’t as prone to selfishness or histrionics.

The anti-Carlo Ancelotti sentiment comes in the theory that once he settles on a winning formula, he is reluctant to change it even when others believe that it has been neutered. The Italian’s assertion last month – since re-emphasised – that the BBC will always play if fit has added to that impression.

Roosting time for last summer’s chickens

Another argument that won’t get as much airtime at the club because it means pointing the finger at president Florentino Perez is that Real are paying for deciding to ditch the men who brought balance to the midfield and by extension the team as a whole last term: Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria.

While Isco has stepped up in his second season, yet newcomer Toni Kroos has impressed only intermittently since Christmas.

The obvious counterpoint to transfer policy being responsible is that this exact squad set a Real Madrid record for most successive victories (22) earlier in the campaign.

Overuse of the treatment table

Why might Alonso and Di Maria have been missed more recently than at the start of 2014/15? Perhaps because back then they still had the third piece of that magnificent midfield available in Luka Modric. The Croatian has since sat out close to four months, before returning as a substitute without Schalke.

They have also been forced to muddle on without prize summer recruit James Rodriguez since early February due to a broken metatarsal, with their dip in form directly traceable to that moment against Sevilla. Star centre back Sergio Ramos has also been absent since then.