We need to talk about Real Madrid’s defense

21st January 2018, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain; La Liga football, Real Madrid versus Deportivo La Coruna; Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) praying before the match starts (Photo by Shot for Press/Action Plus via Getty Images)
21st January 2018, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain; La Liga football, Real Madrid versus Deportivo La Coruna; Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) praying before the match starts (Photo by Shot for Press/Action Plus via Getty Images) /

Real Madrid‘s clean sheet over Deportivo Alavés Saturday was their first since the start of December. It was only Los Blancos’ seventh clean sheet in La Liga this season with their European record not much better. I decided to discuss Real Madrid’s defensive woes and see if we as fans should be worried.

Following his side’s 5-3 win over Real Betis a fortnight ago, Zinedine Zidane was in good form in the post-match press conference. “It was a bit of a crazy game, but I like that,” he said to reporters. When asked about the three goals his side conceded, Zidane replied: “I don’t focus on the three goals conceded, I focus on the five goals scored.”

Real Madrid has broken goal scoring records galore under the Frenchman, but, it is quite obvious that Zidane doesn’t value the defensive side of the game nearly enough. The clean sheet over Alavés meant that Los Blancos now have the fourth best defense in La Liga; rather underwhelming considering the team above is midtable Getafe.

The defensive issue has been one that has plagued Los Blancos for years, in the last 18 La Liga seasons, Real Madrid has had the best defensive record in the league just once and it seems that fixing the problem doesn’t have an easy answer.

The trials of Keylor Navas

Following the Real Betis game, Keylor Navas received the usual criticism he gets when Madrid concede goals. The first goal from a cross saw Navas get a hand to the ball, but was unable to clear it off the line. On the second goal, Navas once again couldn’t hold on to a powerful shot from Junior and Nacho bundled the ball into the net in an attempt to clear it.

Keylor Navas’ Real Madrid career so far has been anything but easy. He was brought in from Levante after a heroic World Cup performance with Costa Rica and spent a season as the understudy to Iker Casillas.

Even after Casillas left for Porto, Keylor never seemed like the club’s first choice. Real Madrid has a strong tradition of long-serving Spanish goalkeepers. Aside from Iker Casillas, the club has seen keepers such as Buyo (the goalkeeper behind the Quinta Del Buirte) and the legendary Ricardo Zamora all have stints in goals for Los Blancos.

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Navas was always going to struggle to live up to the billing in that sense, especially when David De Gea was an option.

Stop conceding the same goals!

Navas is far from being the perfect goalkeeper, but to pretend that he isn’t Real Madrid quality is absurd. He came to the club having won the Zamora trophy at mid-table Levante. He was brilliant throughout the 2015-16 season, although many critics will point out the mistakes he made last season, we should take into account the big injury he had that summer, an injury he only seemed to fully recover from heading into the business end of last season.

This season, he has the 9th most saves per 90 minutes in La Liga and third for most saves inside his six-yard box. Like it or not, Keylor Navas is good enough to play for Real Madrid.

If are to look at the defensive unit as we should, as a unit and not just at Keylor Navas, we will see the same mistakes made over and over again.

In that sense, Betis’ second goal fits into the mold of goals Real Madrid has conceded on countless occasions this season. Los Blancos are level or losing and are pushing for a crucial goal, they lose the ball high up the pitch with massive gaps at the back, the attacker runs into space, tempts Navas out of his box, and then scores.

It is the same goal all the time and that isn’t me exaggerating, Celta’s first goal in that 2-2 draw early this year is eerily similar to Betis’ second at the Villamartin.  

Is defending badly part of Real Madrid’s identity?

(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images) /

There is no singular reason as to why Madrid concede such similar goals, one could get into the nitty-gritty tactical discussion or defensive schemes, but, there are better writers out there than me to discuss that side of the game. Instead, I like to focus on some bigger questions, like, is defending badly part and parcel of being Real Madrid?

Obviously, the manner in which goals are conceded this season has been, for the most part, inexcusably bad defending, however, Madrid has never been a team praised for defensive solidly.

Let’s not forget that this team is heavily linked with remontadas or comebacks, its part of the club’s identity. A crucial part of making a remontada is to be down in the first place and should we look through the glistening history of Real Madrid, goals are rarely an issue at the capital.

Next: Player ratings from Real Madrid’s 4-0 win against Alavés

In this sense, I feel that Marcelo and Sergio Ramos perfectly encapsulate what being a Real Madrid defender is all about.

Both players are capable of fantastic defensive feats, but when they do eventually retire, I highly doubt many Madridistas will be reminiscing about Marcelo’s best defensive performance or Sergio Ramos’ for that matter. They’re good defenders on their day, but it will be their attacking flair and the crucial goals they have scored that fans will miss the most.

Real Madrid can certainly improve at the back, but, I have doubts about how much better defensively they can be and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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