Real Madrid will benefit from improved defence over replacing Ronaldo
MADRID -- Real Madrid beat Getafe 2-0 on Sunday night at the Santiago Bernabeu with the visiting team unable to register a single shot on target until late in the game. Keylor Navas remains the team's first-choice goalkeeper despite the arrival of Thibaut Courtois during the summer, and while Getafe showed little interest in attacking until they went two goals down, Real Madrid were assured in their defensive duties.
All in all, with an emphasis on fixing the attack, it seems that Julen Lopetegui is trying to maximise his side's chances of winning by fixing his defence first.
One of the problems Lopetegui was tasked with after losing Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus during the summer was replacing his goals. But instead of replacing the 50-odd goals that the club's former No. 7 used to score per season, Lopetegui might look at it a different way: reducing the amount of goals his side need to score to win.
"We like the players we have, and I have no doubts about the squad I have," said Lopetegui before the game against Getafe. "Our players have a fantastic attitude, and people are going to see a Madrid side with a lot of talent. The important players are the ones that are here, not the ones that are not."
Lopetegui knows he has to get the most out of the squad he has, and against an opponent like Getafe, he has the chance to try different combinations to figure out what works best for him and his team going forward.
There was a defensive solidity about Real Madrid on Sunday night that was rarely on display in the league during Zinedine Zidane's last season in charge. This is the same team, of course, that conceded three times vs. Girona at the Bernabeu last season and twice against Villarreal and Sevilla late in the season, too. They kept just three clean sheets in their last 20 games in the league last season, many of those games against some poor opposition; it's an aspect of Zidane's team that was rarely highlighted.
Sometimes it takes being backed into a corner to really find an innovative way out of it. An invention that comes out of necessity can sometimes be the most significant in the long run. In that way, the lack of signings at Real Madrid this summer is forcing Lopetegui to work on the training ground as opposed to in the transfer market.
The new manager was forced into a couple of changes on Sunday night with Casemiro, Raphael Varane and Luka Modric left out of the starting XI as they are eased back into action after a gruelling World Cup. The change in his midfield not only worked, but it also gave a chance to Dani Ceballos to show his worth, something he was rarely afforded last season. It gave Lopetegui a chance to try a double pivot involving Ceballos and Toni Kroos; neither player is that intimidating, but they boast enough positional awareness to snuff out danger even before it arises.
The four goals Real Madrid conceded against Atletico Madrid in Tallinn on Wednesday night might have seen a correlation with how some of those arriving back late to training were rushed into the team. In hindsight, they were unnecessary risks to take when Lopetegui, a man who proved his ability to tinker during his time with Spain, has options in his squad.
There did seem to be times under Zidane when Casemiro was deployed at the base of midfield even though there was no need for such a defensive player, and he would almost get bored with the role, leaving massive spaces when he did eventually and inevitably venture forward. Such forays yielded a nice return of five goals in 25 games in La Liga last season.
There were other interesting aspects, too, which lend themselves to a vibe of increased defensive solidity. Marcelo was not as adventurous as he has tended to be in the past even though he didn't need to be. He also got the chance to pair Nacho with his captain Sergio Ramos. Nacho, arguably the most underrated defender in La Liga, balances out Ramos' tendency to get caught high up the field and out of position and was outstanding at the back in the French defenders stead.
There is an inherent risk that comes with a focus on defence approach with fewer goals scored overall. Once Real inevitably lose a game, fingers will be pointed, but if Ronaldo has not been adequately replaced -- along with the goals from Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez from previous seasons, too -- there is a genuine excuse as to why.
"Signing players is not something in our hands," said Lopetegui before the game. He might figure that while sitting and hoping for a star No. 9 to land on his lap is one way to approach things, figuring out a way to mitigate the loss of Ronaldo's goal by way of just conceding less is a proactive approach to a problem that isn't going away.