What Real Madrid must fix before Champions League knockout stages

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) /

Real Madrid are unbeaten in eight straight matches, but they cannot leave anything up to chance when the Champions League returns.

About a month ago, Real Madrid were at real risk of not qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages following a second loss to Shakhtar Donetsk. But they quickly rebounded, winning six straight games, including victories over Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Atletico Madrid all in a row.

After a 1-1 draw with Elche, Los Blancos got back to their winning ways this weekend with a 2-0 win over Europa League hopefuls Celta Vigo. But despite the lack of defeats, there is still something Real Madrid must fix before the Champions League knockout stages begin in late February with a match against Atalanta.

Real are still not fully convincing fans in the attack, specifically their forwards when it comes to finishing chances.

Against Elche, their lack of attacking prowess cost them in what ended up being a 1-1 draw. Now you can blame Dani Carvajal for giving up a penalty, or you can be more realistic and say that these things happen, but against a team like Elche, Real should be able to score more than one goal so as to ensure they don’t have to keep a clean sheet in order to avoid dropping points.

More from The Real Champs

In La Liga this season, Real Madrid have just four players outperforming their xG by 0.5 goals, according to FBRef.com. Three of those four players are midfielders. Likewise, Karim Benzema is carrying the attack with eight goals. Nobody else has even half, as those three midfielders – Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Fede Valverde – are the only other Madrid players with at least three goals.

But on the flip side, if we look at players who are underperforming their xG by at least 0.5 goals, we see six players on the list. Vinicius Junior is the biggest culprit with 2.1, but Sergio Ramos is also surprisingly on the list with 1.8. And he was the team’s second-leading scorer last season.

Real Madrid have received six goals from their wide forwards this season, as Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius are the only players at those positions with multiple goals in La Liga. And Vini has not scored in about three months. Meanwhile, Los Blancos have 10 goals from their midfield.

There are two additional issues at play offensively beyond the wasteful finishing and the poor performances from the wide forwards. Eden Hazard’s injury has taken Real’s most talented wide forward out of the equation, so his health in the Champions League is of paramount importance if Los Blancos are to reach their potential. The second issue is the club’s reliance on Karim Benzema both as a scorer and creator, seeing as there is no other healthy player on the squad with three assists in the league this season besides Benzema.

Hazard and Benzema are Real’s superstar players. Recently, Marco Asensio has added three goal contributions for Los Blancos in the last three games, and his resurgence would be crucial in Los Blancos improving their attack before the Champions League knockout stages.

dark. Next. 3 players Real Madrid must phase out

The level of competition increases from the Round of 16 onward. In these next few weeks, Los Blancos must raise their game offensively so that by the time the Champions League resumes, they can feel confident in their ability to win every match. Perhaps getting young players like Martin Odegaard and Vinicius more confident and involved will help, too, in addition to the hopes of a healthy Hazard.