by Paul Giblin
MADRID, May 6 (Xinhua) — Wednesday was a difficult night for Real Madrid as they were outrun and outplayed by Chelsea in a 2-0 defeat which ended their hopes of a 14th Champions League title.
The final score may have been 2-0, but with better finishing, Chelsea could have been out of sight and opened up a much bigger wound in Real Madrid’s pride, but even so listening to Gary Lineker say that Zinedine Zidane’s side “never looked” like getting back into the tie, must hurt a team that bases its season on European success.
The defeat (and the manner of the defeat) has already had an effect in Spain, with increased speculation that Zidane will leave the club at the end of the campaign as his tactical changes once again failed.
Eden Hazard has been the center of the criticism with the former Chelsea winger winning no friends at all in Spain after being filmed laughing and joking with his former teammates after the final whistle.
“Hazard shouldn’t spend another minute at Real Madrid,” commented TV presenter Josep Pederol at the start of Wednesday’s edition of the influential “El Chiringuito” TV show and given Pederol’s close links to Madrid President, Florentino Perez, you can bet that message came from above.
But more than the injury-prone Hazard’s joking with his former companions, or Zidane feeling worn down and by the task for the second time in just over five years, there are deeper problems at the club and they won’t go away even if they manage to win La Liga this season.
Just as FC Barcelona did until the arrival of Ronald Koeman last summer, Real Madrid has allowed key players in their squad to grow old and now they have to face the consequences.
Sergio Ramos (who is out of contract at the end of the season and looks set to leave) is 35, as is Luka Modric, who will turn 36 before the next season kicks off. Marcelo is 33 next week and his defending is less reliable than it used to be. Meanwhile, the club’s only truly effective striker, Karim Benzema, will be 34 just before Christmas, and Hazard, Nacho Fernandez, and Toni Kroos are also over 30.
So there are only seven players over 30 in the squad, but the fact six of them started against Chelsea shows these aging players are still first choice and highlights that Real Madrid’s older players are still the most important players.
Although Eder Militao has improved in recent weeks, other youngsters, such as Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo, and to an extent Fede Valverde have failed to step up, while the fact Zidane preferred to play Nacho, who is happier in central defense, ahead of natural right-back Alvaro Odriozola says all you need to know about the confidence the coach has in the former Real Sociedad player.
Vinicius has now been with Real Madrid for three years and although he was excellent against Liverpool in the previous round, he hasn’t progressed and the same can be said for Rodrygo after two seasons at the club.
Other key players, such as Raphael Varane and Lucas Vazquez have yet to sign new contracts and they could also leave, which means there is a lot of rebuilding to do at a time when the club’s economy is at a delicate moment with expensive ground renovation work and the effects of the pandemic.
From that perspective, it’s not hard to see why Perez was such a keen promoter of the failed Super League project, which would have solved the economic problems in one fell swoop. But the Super League was stillborn and now Real Madrid has to plan for a future in which they need to sign another top striker, at least one central midfielder, and a replacement for Ramos and possibly Varane. And of course, there is the problem of Gareth Bale, who is scheduled to return after his season at Tottenham.
Former striker and current B-team coach Raul Gonzalez is being tipped as the replacement for Zidane and Raul could look to promote some of the club’s youngsters such as Sergio Arribas, Antonio Blanco, or Miguel Gutierrez, but everything points to this being a busy summer at the offices in the Bernabeu. Enditem