Real Madrid: Why Early Struggles Could Help Mourinho and Co. in the Long Run
We have now made it through three matches in La Liga's 2012-2013 season and Real Madrid have not exactly started their title defense off with a bang.
They have managed just four points through three games and are already five points behind leaders and rivals Barcelona.
In a contest as tight as La Liga's title race, five points is a lot for one of the big two to overcome, whether that gap is built at the beginning of the season or later on.
After their loss to Getafe, many fans and analysts were already speaking as though the club wer in crisis mode. Not only had they failed to win a match, they had given Barcelona a one-goal advantage in the Supercopa.
Now, Jose Mourinho has started getting his team back on track after beating Granada and overturning la Blaugrana's lead to take the Supercopa.
But they are not out of the woods yet. A comment from Cristiano Ronaldo saying that he is sad at the club has caused the media to go into a frenzy, wondering what the underlying meaning behind the comments was.
Some believe CR7's comments are a sign of an unhappy star, a divided locker room and, potentially, a player who wants to leave the Spanish capital.
While every theory is probably false, there is at least something causing Ronaldo to be unhappy at the moment and that cause may end up being detrimental to the club in the long run.
However, it could also couple with the team's early struggles to make them even stronger late down the stretch.
With all the negative and worrying talk surrounding Real Madrid at the moment, it is important to see the other side. That is what I want to discuss in this article.
There is reason to believe that having such a poor start to the season could end up helping Ronaldo and his teammates as the season wears on.
Let me explain how.
Teams may underestimate them
Perhaps underestimate is a bad choice of words. It may be better to say that teams will be more willing to challenge the reigning champs.
Now that Getafe has taken a chunk out of the champs and proven that Los Merengues can be beaten, other teams may start feeling more bold and willing to open up and attack the title holders.
If that happens, there is certainly a chance that more teams will take advantage of Real's vulnerability on set pieces—which they have even at full strength—and could find success.
The more likely scenario, however, is that playing less defensively will allow Madrid's world-class attack to score early and often.
I expect most teams to remain defensive against Cristiano Ronaldo and company, but even the slightest easing up at the back can be enough for a team like Real to take advantage and clinch a match early on.
If Real Madrid are lucky, even Tito Vilanova—with his comparative lack of experience as a manager,—will underestimate his rivals and get lured into a false sense of security with that five-point lead atop La Liga.
I wouldn't bet on that happening, though.
The squad may become more united
If football has taught us anything, it is that the best team in any given year is not always the most talented.
More often than not, the team that wins trophies is the team that plays best as a unit. A team that is tight knit and that understands each other can often overcome a lack of talent.
As Real Madrid begins its recovery from some early-season missteps, the team has a chance to grow as a group.
We have already seen Jose Mourinho and his men become closer over the last season by overcoming their rivals for the first time with the current crop of stars and the added value of such cohesiveness is on display for everyone to see.
Now the team has to not only get over some early season struggles on the pitch, but will also need to deal with some off-field issues as their best player appears to be unhappy with the club.
Usually when a star expresses sadness at his club, one of two things happen. It either serves as a distraction that weakens the squad and causes friction in the locker room or it ends up bring the team closer together as a means of coping with the added attention from the media.
I expect that Ronaldo will come out and squash this issue rather quickly after the international break. More importantly, as players like Alvaro Arbeloa and Kaka have already shown, I expect more players to come out and defend CR7, which can only make them stronger in the end.
History tends to repeat itself
Last season we saw Levante beat Real Madrid early int he season in a win that inspired a historic run for the club that culminated in the Valencian club clinching a Europa League spot.
A week later Racing Santander took a point from Los Blancos and five very winnable points had been dropped.
What happened next? Jose Mourinho's men reeled off 15 consecutive victories and only lost one more match for the rest of the season.
With the talent Jose Mourinho has at his disposal and with Barcelona posing the only serious threat to Madrid's title challenge, there is no reason to think that a similar winning streak can't be had.
They've already begun rebounding
On the pitch, the champs have already begun moving on from their early struggles.
After losing to Getafe and failing to win their first three matches, Real went on to overcome a deficit in the Spanish Supercopa to beat their rivals and win their first trophy of the season.
Not only did they win, they played Barcelona off the pitch for the first 40 minutes or so. The record-breaking attack of last season began showing itself again.
After that, they beat a tough Granada side and Ronaldo scored his first goals of the season. It was the first time that Real Madrid looked like a team all season.
Another great positive from that season was Luka Modric. Madrid's new Galactico had a solid showing at the Bernabeu and looks to e a key player for a team that will be in three competitions this year.
Perhaps most importantly, the squad now enters an international break that will give many players much-needed rest.
Lots of key players including Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema have looked very tired through the first five matches, but should feel re-energized when La Liga resumes.
How will the early struggles affect Real Madrid in the long run?
They will also have the benefit of only having one match per week for the next few weeks. Not to mention that the club will be at or near full health for the first time this season.
Unfortunately for Real Madrid, the troubles currently facing the squad go beyond their form on the pitch.
While most of the rumors and stories surrounding Ronaldo's unhappiness at the club are made up and false, there could very well be some trouble in the locker room.
Nothing can hurt a club's title challenge more than a divided squad so Jose Mourinho will have to make sure that any potential conflicts within the team are dealt with quickly and decisively.
If Real Madrid can unite and continue to improve on the pitch, they can get better as time goes on and eventually outlast their great rivals this season.
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