Set-piece sloppiness detrimental to Real Madrid hopes

Jose Mourinho’s men have conceded 14 times from dead-ball deliveries in all competitions this term, a stat which could harm their chances of silverware in 2012-13

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

The dead-ball debacle continues. Danny Welbeck’s goal for Manchester United at Real Madrid on Wednesday was the latest in a long line of set-piece strikes conceded by the Spanish side this season. On the sidelines, Jose Mourinho was furious – and he had every right to be.

It is hard to know exactly what Sergio Ramos was thinking. The Spain stopper has gone on to become one of the world’s most accomplished defenders in recent years, yet there was no jump nor an attempt at a legitimate challenge – only a push which proved futile as Welbeck headed home.

Real Madrid later equalised through Cristiano Ronaldo’s impressive towering header, but Mourinho’s men were forced to settle for a draw in a game they could, should and no doubt would have won had they not let in such a sloppy goal after 20 minutes.

Ramos later assumed responsibility for his mistake after Mourinho’s remarks in the press room. The Portuguese did not mention the Seville-born defender by name, but he did not need to – Ramos knew he had made a mistake and vowed to put it right.

But it is not just him. Of 40 goals conceded by Madrid in all competitions in 2012-13, 14 have arrived from set pieces and that does not include a further three that have come via the penalty spot. Indeed, exactly 35 per cent of the goals let in by the capital club have originated from dead-ball deliveries.

“We cannot work more on set pieces. Every player knows his role, the opponent he has to mark, the zone he has to cover,” Mourinho moaned after another Ramos error saw Madrid lose at Sevilla in September. Little has changed since then.

Iker Casillas is currently sidelined, but the Madrid captain appears less assured for Real than when he is in a Spain shirt, while recent signing Diego Lopez has looked impressive but is reluctant to come off his line and clear the danger. Individual mistakes from Ramos, Pepe, Angel Di Maria and even Ronaldo, who headed into his own net at Granada recently, have also cost the capital club this term.

The trait is perhaps uncharacteristic of a Mourinho side and could prove costly as Madrid look to salvage an already suspect season. La Liga looks lost as the champions trail Barcelona by 19 points ahead of their derby clash at Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, while tough second-leg games await away against the Catalans and United in the Copa del Rey and Champions League, respectively, in the coming weeks.

In each case, the first games finished 1-1 at Santiago Bernabeu and Madrid’s hopes of claiming silverware this year now rest on advancing in those two tantalising ties. Trips to Camp Nou and Old Trafford are difficult enough at the best of times, so Mourinho will hope his men can sort out their dead-ball deficiencies once and for all. Their season may just depend on it.

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