Rafael Benitez vowed to attack when his players file out against Barcelona and he did, but it was the league leaders who won the battle at Bernabeu recording their second biggest win without conceding in a league away game against Real Madrid (5-0 in 1974).
After Real Madrid’s 4-0 home defeat, we take a look at four major mistakes Rafa has made as Madrid manager.
1. Falling out with Cristiano Ronaldo is not a good idea.
Rafa was onto a loser with this one as the Portuguese forward was a big fan of Carlo Ancelotti and would have preferred him to stay. Benitez came in and didn’t humour him at first, putting him on the same level as Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, among others. Then he changed his tune, saying Ronaldo was the best in the world, but it was too late. Other players have had it out with Benitez too, with some feeling marginalised and James recently digging out the coach in public.
2. Trying to play Bale as a 10
Might fit the designs of president Florentino Perez, who wants the Welshman to become the club’s next big star, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Injury has prevented him from featuring too many times, but when he has played the results have been variable. Against weak opponents it works, but when he played there against Barcelona he was lost. Bale floundered, offering almost nothing, safe two chances he created one to Ronaldo (who should have scored). When Madrid have James Rodriguez, Isco and Toni Kroos, all of whom want and would be able to play in that position, it almost seems like self-sabotage.
3. Compromising his style in the Clasico left Madrid in no-mans land. Rafa Benitez would have liked to play Casemiro for defensive solidity and it would have turned their 4-0 humiliation into a scrappy, closer game. The problem is he was afraid. Afraid of what the president, fans and players would say. They want to play attacking football – and despite what he says to the media, he doesn’t. Of course picking Casemiro was the right call, to close down the likes of Andres Iniesta and offer support to Danilo to help shackle Neymar. Instead, Rafa thought that if he went defensive in the Clasico and still lost he would be a dead man. As it happens, it appears he is anyway.
4. Unfriendly training methods don’t only fail to get players on his side, but also hurt the team. Madrid have had several injuries this season and many blame them on the coach working his team too hard both in pre-season and regular sessions. Rafa is heavy. Heavy on the players both mentally and physically.
Some of these decisions aren’t entirely Benitez’s fault. The Ronaldo issue, for example, has Rafa between a rock and a hard place. It’s evident he’s not the player he used to be. He also can’t be blamed for Perez’s vice-like grip on transfer policy and demands over style and selection. But he can be strong enough to stand his ground and make his own decisions, bearing the consequences – good or bad.