Real Madrid counted on its top-tier stars to deliver after letting plenty go in the summer, but they've under-delivered, and the lack of options is harming Zinedine Zidane's squad.
It was August 16, 2017, when Real Madrid sealed a second piece of silverware in the space of a week, after a 2-0 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu against El Clasico rivals Barcelona sealed an emphatic 5-1 aggregate Spanish Super Cup win to go with their 2-1 UEFA Super Cup success against Manchester United eight days prior.
Seemingly the kings of Europe after their La Liga and Champions League double in the previous season, August now seems a million miles away for a Los Blancos side who appear to be a shadow of their former selves, with a fairly inactive summer transfer window a problem that has now caught up with them.
It's been no secret that Real Madrid have indeed struggled this season to put it kindly. Currently fourth behind Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, Zinedine Zidane's side are an astounding 19 points off the summit of La Liga, they are actually in fact closer to the relegation zone, 14 points to be precise.
Examining their summer transfer window can shed some light onto their current plight:
|Alvaro Morata||Chelsea||£55.8||Theo Hernandez||Atletico Madrid||£27m|
|Danilo||Manchester City||£27||Dani Ceballos||Real Betis||£14.85m|
|James Rodriguez||Bayern Munich||Loan - £11.7m fee|
|Mariano Diaz||Olympique Lyonnais||£7.2m|
|Diego Llorente||Real Sociedad||£6.3m|
|Fabio Coentrao||Sporting CP||Loan - £0.9m|
Not only does Madrid's intake vastly outweigh their outspend, it is the positions they have lost those players in which has weakened Zidane's squad. While their incomings in the shape of Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos have failed to make their mark at Real Madrid so far, it is they players they've lost and failed to directly replace that has hurt them.
Morata and Mariano both left in the summer, leaving the La Liga giants with Karim Benzema and Borja Mayoral as their recognized strikers. Benzema and Mayoral have scored a combined total of three league goals this season, while Morata has 10 Premier League goals and Mariano, who is enjoying himself in France, has 13 Ligue 1 goals.
Real Madrid's lack of transfer activity, especially in an attacking areas, has resulted in a heavier burden placed on the pair of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
While the Welshman is one of Europe's most revered forwards, the 28-year-old has been hampered with injuries, meaning his presence cannot always be a given. Despite scoring four goals in eight league games this season, Bale has missed more than half the season because of injury, with his pace and dynamism greatly missed in a somewhat static front line in his absence.
Then there's the curious case of Cristiano Ronaldo. His struggles have been well documented this season, scoring more Champions League goals than La Liga goals, 9-4. Cutting an unhappy figure this season, Ronaldo is now 32, meaning the majority of his work is now done within the width of the 18-yard box and cannot be the explosive, pacey forward that Madrid signed in 2009 and are currently crying out for today.
It is not the front line that should only be scrutinized however, as the problems for Zidane's side stretches throughout the entirety of the team. Question marks remain over Casemrio, who does vacate his holding midfield position far too often, which can leave the back-four exposed.
While the number of goals Madrid have conceded isn't especially high (17), the manner of defeats and goals conceded have been a recurring theme.
Real Madrid's defeat to Villarreal on Saturday mirrored their Real Betis loss in September, a 1-0 scoreline, conceding late into the game and being caught on the counter-attack. While the defending leaves a lot to be desired in both instances, the fact that Madrid have little to call on from the bench to help break down teams is as a result of a poor transfer window.
Isco and Marco Asensio are good options to have off the bench, yet the pair are very similar in an attacking sense, while Lucas Vasquez isn't an attacker who opposing defenders will necessarily fear when he comes on, while Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are two world-class center backs in their own right, yet the departure of Pepe makes them very light in that area of the pitch.
It's not only their La Liga performances that have been affected this season, with their second place finish in a Champions League group containing the likes of Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund meaning they have a last-16 tie against the French juggernaut that is Paris Saint-Germain, a proposition the Spanish side would've preferred to deal with later into the competition.
Real Madrid have been linked with a plethora of stars in a bid to fix the problem, with Mohamed Salah, Neymar and Kepa Arrizabalaga to name a few, while Eden Hazard remains firmly at the top of Zidane's shopping list. It also appears that Zidane is sticking to the principles of giving youth a chance a club that prefers to buy stars rather that produce their own, with Achraf Hakimi, Marco Asensio a positive nod to the future.
While the approach is commendable, the investment of youth is something that takes time, a commodity that even Real Madrid cannot afford at the minute, and can go along way to rectifying a poor summer transfer window with the addition of some marquee names this window and in the summer, and turn around a situation Zidane has described as "f***ed up".