Real Madrid: Why Jose Mourinho's Tactics Aren't Working in La Liga
In the year that many expected Los Blancos to take another mighty step forward, they're already eight points behind arch-rivals Barcelona.
What is going wrong in the Santiago Bernabeu? What is Jose Mourinho doing—or not doing—to make such a poor start to the 2012-13 La Liga campaign?
They've Remained Largely Unchanged
Real Madrid are playing the same 4-2-3-1 formation that they showcased last season to great effect.
The system is, in essence, the de facto best and most efficient one in world football at present; but it's almost as if Jose Mourinho saw no need for alterations.
They saying that defending your title is harder than winning it rings true. Everybody wants to beat the champions; raising their game for the current holders.
The 4-2-3-1 isn't exactly a secret—it's being utilised all over the world and featured heavily on the world stage during Euro 2012—so ways to deal with it are becoming common knowledge.
A combination of a less-than-fresh looking Madrid with the fact that they're on everyone's hit list makes it unsurprising that the team isn't winning.
The Neutralisation of Xabi Alonso
Last season, Xabi Alonso averaged 78 passes per game across the La Liga campaign, playing in a deep-lying playmaker role adjacent to Sami Khedira.
His effectiveness is undoubted. Whether it's the recycling of possession or the perfect Hollywood ball, Alonso does it all effortlessly—and everyone's worked it out.
Teams this year have sought to stop Alonso playing and dictating. Sevilla produced their own version of the "suffoco" role this season, using Ivan Rakitic as an advanced stopper to irritate and harass the Spaniard.
Alonso is far from mobile, so he struggles to get away from players who try to neutralise his game.
Sticking a young, agile midfielder on his heels seriously affects Madrid's game.
The Lack of Luka Modric Impact
The Xabi Alonso problem is one Jose Mourinho foresaw.
It's the reason he demanded the signing of Luka Modric, so he could add a different creative element to his midfield.
The Croatian represents one of the first in the line of the new-style playmaker. He's mobile, comfortable playing in a flat midfield, creates chances and passes horizontally to full-backs with precision.
So far, however, the Portuguese tactician has failed to introduce Modric in a consistent fashion.
He offers something significantly different to Alonso, as shown by his late appearance against Sevilla, but Mou appears tentative still to introduce him as a starter.
Cristiano Ronaldo Can't Find Space
Moving away from the engine room and towards Real Madrid's other key attacking outlet, Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't found the space he's been accustomed to.
His fleet-footedness meant that, for most of last season, players didn't dare try to tackle him or else risk giving away a free kick.
This season is different. Teams are happy to double, or triple, cover him in order to neutralise his goal threat and he's not finding himself open in the left forward channel nearly as much as he'd like.
Ronaldo's goals were critical last season in lifting the La Liga trophy. Jose Mourinho must find a way to re-integrate him and his skills.