Real Madrid's Defensive Lapses Ruin Promising Start Against Real Sociedad

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

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For a club that has often paid little regard to defending, Real Madrid's pursuit of striker Javier Hernandez on Sunday felt emblematic of Los Blancos' distorted priorities, as the European champions slumped to a 4-2 loss to Real Sociedad at the Estadio Anoeta. 

Not content with an attacking cast that includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Isco, Jese, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, Real have identified Hernandez as a necessary addition, per Sky Sports' Guillem Balague, agreeing a loan deal with Manchester United for the Mexican's services. 

Yet, as the men from the Spanish capital capitulated from a 2-0 lead to record a damaging defeat on Sunday, it was hard not to feel that the continental conquerors have once again abandoned the one aspect of the game that continues to hold them back from a dynasty of dominance. 

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - AUGUST 31:  Pepe of Real Madrid CF reacts during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Anoeta on August 31, 2014 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Last season, remember, it was Real's concession of 38 goals—12 more than Atletico Madrid—that proved to be the decisive factor in their failed La Liga quest. Against Real Sociedad, Los Blancos showed little improvement has been made in that problematic area.

After seizing a two-goal advantage, Ancelotti's vastly unbalanced XI couldn't control the contest in midfield, allowing the home side to launch a plethora of attacks that saw the encounter take on a dramatic change in complexion. 

First, it was Real's poor coverage of the far post that allowed Inigo Martinez to register the hosts' opener, tapping in from Xabi Prieto's glancing header from a corner in the 35th minute. 

Just six minutes later, Ancelotti's defence was again breached; Alberto de la Bella broke down the left to deliver to a pinpoint cross to David Zurutuza, who completed a powerful header to level the score going into the break. 

Contributing to the goal were both the loss of Real's defensive shape and Daniel Carvajal's inability to affect the left-back's delivery.

But more telling was the ease with which the home side moved the ball through midfield. 

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - AUGUST 31:  Toni Kroos of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball with Esteban Granero of Real Sociedad during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Anoeta on August 31, 2014 in San Sebastian,
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In the space of only 360 seconds prior to the interval, Real Madrid had witnessed exactly how the club's summer transfer activity would impact upon their play.

It was only two days ago, of course, that Los Blancos waved farewell to Xabi Alonso, the squad's only elite holding option in midfield. Just days earlier, the European champions allowed Angel Di Maria to move to Old Trafford, stripping Ancelotti's team of its connection between defence and attack. 

In the pair's absence, Real Madrid utilised a midfield trio of Kroos, Modric and Isco to supply a front three comprised of Bale, Benzema and Rodriguez.

It was essentially a front six, only reinforced by their average positions, as illustrated by ESPN FC's Gamecast.  

And yet, Real are still searching for strikers.  

Jose Ignacio Unanue/Associated Press

Without a defensive anchor centrally, the visitors then quickly lost control of the second half on Sunday, allowing a frenetic, end-to-end battle to ensue.

It was Zurutuza who broke the deadlock not long after the hour mark, adding to his first-half goal with a close-range strike after Prieto had stormed into the penalty area past Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. 

Completing the remarkable turnaround was Carlos Vela, who capitalised upon a loose ball from a corner just 10 minutes later, thumping a left-footed shot past Iker Casillas to stun an outfit crowned as Europe's best only three months ago. 

As the final goal went in, exasperation would have been the overwhelming emotion from those watching on, most simply unable to comprehend Real's inability—or perhaps reluctance—to address the team's most obvious flaw.  

Again the defensive shortcomings belonging to Los Blancos were exposed, but again, the club were being linked to the capture of another attacking weapon. 

If ever one day could provide a neat encapsulation of the footballing paradox that is Real Madrid, Sunday was it.