Benitez winning Madrid affections with dominant defensive blueprint
After a goalless draw on the opening day of La Liga, Rafael Benitez’s reign as Real Madrid boss had got off to a stuttering start, with the underwhelming result only piling further pressure on the Spaniard upon taking up his ‘dream’ job.
Although, after four domestic outings as manager in the Spanish capital, those bleak clouds previously hanging over the 55-year-old’s spot at the Bernabeu dug-out have quickly faded, emerging through that poor beginning to discover a solid set-up.
Predominantly, the Spanish giants have been regarded and praised throughout their illustrious history for a dynamic attacking approach, but Benitez is adapting a defensive system which is genuinely working, and is 13/8 with Coral to win him the title.
The Galacticos have boasted the best forward talents for generations and now possess the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to lead their line, but it’s their dominant backline and holding midfielders which are aiding those attacking threats.
Sergio Ramos reportedly snubbed a move to Old Trafford to sign a new contract this summer, and has warranted it so far this term, while Raphael Varane, Pepe, Marcelo Vieira, Dani Carvajal, Toni Kroos and Luca Modric have all been decisive.
An indifferent 1-0 victory over Granada in their previous domestic display made Madrid’s season tally 16 goals without reply. The supreme shut-out record means that this is the only league campaign that Real have begun by scoring more than four goals without conceding in the past decade.
It’s a record that may not look altogether that impressive to onlookers, considering Manchester City recently went their first five games without reply in the Premier League, but is one that a proud Benitez will hold dearly.
The former Valencia coach has set his Real side up with reliance on his fast-thinking and creative menaces unlocking opposing backlines, without overloading the attack. Such an approach has allowed Madrid to become the only team in any major European league not to have conceded so far.
If Benitez wasn’t regarded as the man to take this already-gelled crop of Galacticos forward and potentially onto the next level, he might well be now, with fans and the club’s hierarchy undoubtedly pleased with proceedings on the pitch.
This focus on building from the back and assuring a platform on which midfielders and forwards can work from runs deep in Benitez’s thinking during previous time in Spain. At Valencia, he rallied the club to two league titles in 2002 and 2004, as well as a UEFA Cup triumph during the latter season.
During his first La Liga victory at the Mestalla Stadium, Benitez oversaw Los Che record the best defensive record in the division by a long stretch, conceding 27 times compared to second-placed Deportivo La Coruna’s 41 goals against.
Two years later, it was a familiar outcome for Valencia, storming to a five-point triumph at the summit of Spain’s top-flight with a league-best of exactly 27 goals conceded once again. Madrid, under the guidance of current Spain boss Vicente del Bosque, stumbled to third and fourth-place finishes during Bentiez’s title-winning campaigns respectively.
Madrid fans can safely be assured it’s not a pure defensive approach during every fixture from the Spaniard, with Benitez’s system actually helping his stars get on with their business in front of goal.
Despite earlier reports of a tense relationship with Ronaldo, the Portuguese superstar has struck eight goals in three games. Far from being unhappy it would seem.
“People call me defensive, but last year Napoli scored 104 goals, a club record,” declared Benitez.
After overcoming Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, the Spaniard added: “We have such strength in attack. So I am happy to have made many chances and not to have conceded a goal again.”
To add to Benitez’s growing positives since arriving, number one Keylor Navas has already bettered the club’s record number of clean sheets at the beginning of a season in all competitions.
The club tried, rather unconvincingly, to lure David de Gea from Manchester United, but their current stopper needs just 10 more minutes of unbeaten La Liga action to better the legendary Iker Casillas’ best domestic shut-out effort.
With such a dominant defensive approach helping Benitez win over earlier doubters, Real are now looking extremely stable on all fronts, as their boss aims to clinch silverware success in his first term, with an 11th European Cup triumph 5/1 to occur next year.