After their defeat to Espanyol on Tuesday, the possibility of Real Madrid finishing outside the top 3 in La Liga has because much more feasible. They currently sit just one point ahead of Valencia (who are in 4th) and are way off the pace of league leaders Barcelona and 2nd-placed Atletico Madrid. Zinedine Zidane was involved last time Real Madrid finished outside the top 3 back in 2004.
In the midst of their Galactico era, Los Blancos managed to finish the 2003/04 season in fourth place behind Valencia, Barcelona and Deportivo. They’d been champions the year before with a squad packed full of international stars so why did they finish so how? Here are the details of that season:
It was Real Madrid squad that consisted of some of the greats of the game. Raul was the club captain but had a low-scoring season by his standards, being overshadowed by the Brazilian Ronaldo whose career had just peaked the year before after lifting the World Cup and his second Ballon d’Or the year before. But the club didn’t have just one Ballon d’Or winner in their ranks, they had former Barcelona superstar Luis Figo as well. Real continued their trait of signing the biggest names in the game in the summer of 2003 with a €35m deal for David Beckham. The English talisman managed just 3 goals in La Liga that season but his sensational crossing and passing ability did not go unnoticed in Spain.
Current manager Zinedine Zidane was heading towards the end of his career but was still one of the best midfielders in the world and yet another Ballon d’Or winner in the Real ranks. He played alongside the Real Madrid icon that was Guti in central midfield but his goal tally was just 2. Michel Salgado and Roberto Carlos made up part of the defence and the two attacking full-backs contributed with goals and assists all season. The squad included young prospects such as Alvaro Arbeloa, Roberto Soldado, Diego Lopez and Juanfran but none of them were able to break into the team and contribute. A major factor in their demise that season was the sale of Claude Makelele to Chelsea that summer and caused Real to have defensive problems like never before.
This was Carlos Queiroz’s only season in charge at Real Madrid and you can see why. After spending the season before as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant, Queiroz made the switch to Spain having only had managerial experience at club level in Japan, USA and Portugal. Queiroz started life at the Bernabeu in winning ways with a SuperCopa victory over Mallorca before becoming serious contenders to defend their league title. By mid-season they were top of the table and also into the latter stages of the Champions League. He’d won the first Clasico of the season at the Nou Camp and was becoming very popular with the Madrid fans because of the attractive football his team played. So, where did it all go wrong for the current Iran boss?
Real Madrid had lost just 4 games all season by the time they reached April but their grip on the league title fell away from them after a poor end to the season. First of all, they went down 3-0 at home to Osasuna but that looked like a blip after they beat city rivals Atletico at the Vicente Calderon. However, they went on to lose each of their last 5 games and were ultimately overtaken by Valencia, Barcelona and Deportivo before finishing 4th. A late winner from Xavi dealt Real defeat in the first game of that awful run against Barcelona before Real were beaten again at Deportivo. Two goals from Samuel Eto’o saw them lose 3-2 at home to Mallorca in a game that saw them concede 3 times before half time. They then lost 2-1 at minnows Murcia before being humiliated on the last day of the season at the hands of Real Sociedad. The Basque club scored 4 goals at the Bernabeu in what proved to be Queiroz’s last game in charge.
Scoring goals wasn’t a problem for Los Blancos that season with the wealth of attacking talent they had at their disposal. In fact, they were the top scoring team that season in La Liga, scoring one more than eventual champions Valencia. It was their defence that let them down – they conceded a whopping 54 goals that season and kept just 5 clean sheets all season. Those 5 clean sheets all came before the 4th of January meaning that Real went 20 league games without a clean sheet until the end of the season. No Real Madrid side has conceded that many goals over a league campaign since.
How likely is it that Real finish outside the top 3 this season?
They’re not quite on course to concede 54 goals but they are on course for their lowest points tally since the 2005/06 season when they finished 2nd. However, nowadays La Liga is a lot more competitive with the likes of Atletico Madrid and Valencia challenging the two biggest clubs in the land. It looks increasingly unlikely that Real have enough to breach the 10-point gap between them and 2nd-placed Atletico Madrid and with just one point back to Valencia in 4th, Los Blancos could be on for their lowest finish since that defensively weak 2003/04 season.