Real Madrid start showing signs of life after Sergio Ramos
As Real Madrid stumbled upon the defeat to Manchester City in last season’s Champions League, a high-pitched whistle from the stands pierced the fake noise of the crowd.
Adorned with his best impression of Conor McGregor, Sergio Ramos wasn’t going to let a simple suspension stop him from rallying Real Madrid’s backline. Yet despite Ramos’ best attempts, Madrid crashed into the last 16 for the second year on the spin, and the second year with their captain watching from the stands.
The loss to Shakhtar Donetsk in this season’s opener of the group stage – with Ramos and his whistle once again linked to the gap – only deepened the alleged dependence between Real and a player in breach of contract in June 2021.
However, Madrid started the new year by beating the shaped La Liga squad, without their talismanic captain or sonic assault from the stands. With a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday, Los Blancos secured their sixth victory in seven league appearances, moving up to second place behind city rivals Atletico Madrid.
Ramos – it must be said – only missed two of those outings. Still, the fact that his absence was barely felt in either game is a huge improvement over the situation as recently as the start of this season. The always versatile Nacho Fernandez stepped in for his captain against Sevilla and Celta.
After a first-half performance imbued with the aggression of the toes so regularly displayed by Ramos, Nacho deftly stepped on the disciplinary tightrope against Celta following a yellow card early in the second half. Zinedine Zidane stressed that he was “not surprised at the quality of his play”, but Madrid’s recovery in recent weeks also owes a lot to those in front of the defense.
Madrid wrapped up last season’s league title with unusual resolve but had a bumpy start to the current campaign when they failed to replicate that approach. While their attack remained among the best in the division, Madrid conceded a plethora of high-quality chances in large part because of the gaping holes in their midfield.
While Toni Kroos often backed up to retrieve the ball from the center-backs, the other Madrid players rushed forward, leaving large expanses of green grass for Casemiro to gather on his own, with or without Ramos in the squad. In the first ten league games of the season, Madrid have conceded almost double the rate recorded in 2019/20 and lost as many matches as in the entire winning campaign.
Zidane has since changed his approach. Luka Modric enjoyed a run of compelling form, reducing some of that space by staying closer to Casemiro while finding the net twice. Madrid have only conceded three times in their last seven La Liga appearances – keeping a clean sheet in the two missed matches at Ramos.
However, unlike Modric, Ramos’ contract negotiations have become markedly stagnant.
Despite its seniority, Ramos’ production has proven resistant to severe decline. Still, Madrid would hand him the new two-year deal he is claiming assuming he will continue to play at such a level at the age of 37.
Zidane may have backed Ramos to stay in the Spanish capital, but unless he gives in to his demands, Madrid’s precarious economic situation – due to a stadium renovation amid a pandemic global – does not leave much room for maneuver.
If Ramos were to end his decade-and-a-half stay at the Bernabeu, Madrid would certainly have to find a replacement, no matter how impressive Nacho has been lately. Bayern Munich’s David Alaba – available on a free transfer this summer – is widely touted as the most likely candidate. After enjoying a better career campaign last season, the versatile Austrian international – six years behind Ramos junior – is a no-brainer.
Ramos could very well have even more elite years under his belt, but Madrid have shown their ability to defend well in his absence and – like the smallest of violins – just can’t afford it.