With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, uefa.com will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at European champions Real Madrid CF. On paper, Vicente del Bosque's team resembles a football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. However, the game is played on grass, and Madrid's superstars have not had everything their own way so far.
The story so far
Normally, Madrid are first out of the blocks and go on to maintain that pace throughout the season. This time, however, they are yet to get going either at home or in Europe. The Champions League holders have failed to scale the heights of previous campaigns, although they did finish top of their first group stage section, having won the first two games, drawn three and lost one of the next four. It sounds better than it actually was, though, considering their opponents in the group were AEK Athens FC, AS Roma and KRC Genk. Indeed, Fabio Capello's Italian strugglers managed to beat Madrid at the Bernabéu with a goal from Francesco Totti - a result that should have given the club a serious wake-up call. Still, Madrid remain among the favourites given the resources at Del Bosque's disposal, the experience they have in this competition and the club's great ambition to win a tenth European Cup. They have arguably the strongest squad - players who have successfully negotiated the Champions League pitfalls before. The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Raúl González, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos give them so many options going forward that if they play to their potential, there will be few teams capable of stopping them. However, they must strike the right balance between individual brilliance and team play.
The advantage Madrid have over the rest is the attacking strength of their star players. However, that is also a weakness with the team becoming too reliant on individual flair. They have not been scoring enough goals and one reason for that is Ronaldo's inability to get a settled run in the side due to injury. When they are not scoring it increases the pressure on a defence that is anything but watertight. What makes Madrid so strong, however, is that they can cruise through competitions at way below their best, as we have seen.
One problem that Del Bosque must address is the team's defensive frailty, particularly at set-pieces. The club have spent untold riches over recent seasons improving their attacking prowess yet have barely laid out a Euro on strengthening the defence. While Manchester United FC have lavished huge sums on securing Rio Ferdinand, and the two Milan clubs are breaking the bank for Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro, Madrid are still intent on paying for luxuries. Such a policy could lead to their downfall.
Key man - Iker Casillas
Considering their poor start to the campaign, it is no great surprise that Madrid's best player so far should be goalkeeper Iker Casillas. With the strikers firing blanks and the defence struggling, it has been Casillas who has come to the rescue and more of the same will be needed from the Spanish international to ensure a quarter-final place. Honorary mentions also go to the arch-creator Zidane and supersub Guti.
Best moment so far
It has to be the opening-night victory over AS Roma at the Olimpico in September. Two goals from Guti and another from Raúl signified an impressive statement of intent from the holders, who went on to win Group C thanks to a 6-0 thrashing of Genk on the next Matchday. Whether they can really follow up that initial triumph remains to be seen.
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