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Rafa Benítez's Christmas holiday homework

SPORTYOU SPORTYOU 22/12/2015 harveyholtom
Los deberes navideños de Rafa Benítez © Getty Images Los deberes navideños de Rafa Benítez

Rafa Benítez has headed off to Liverpool for Christmas with Real Madrid third in La Liga, two points behind Barcelona (who have a game in hand), through to the Champions League Round of 16, and out of the Copa del Rey, having been disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. The coach takes with him a folder that is full of homework to be done, tasks that have built up since he took over the Blanco dugout. Now is not the time to give him his end-of-year mark, rather it is a time for him to get his head down and swot up on the possible solutions to the problems that have hobbled the team's progress in the different competitions. Benítez has five big issues to sort out before they start to fester more than they have been doing.

A recognisable team. One of the main problems the Real Madrid coach has is the fact that he has not been able to put together a team with a recognisable style in the first five months of competition. What are this Real Madrid team playing at? This is the main question that season ticket holders, fans and the press have all been asking. The team's play gives off a feeling of mismanagement that has got the fans riled up. The lack of a clear system and a defined pattern of play have made many start to doubt the suitability of Benítez's being hired by the club.

Improving the rapport with the players. It is common knowledge that Benítez has not connected with his players and has had a few brushes with several of them, among them with heavyweights such as Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodríguez, Toni Kroos and Isco Alarcón. The latest was with Isco who, it seems, was spotted behaving a little out of line in the dugout when Rayo Vallecano scored their second goal at the Bernabéu on Sunday.

Connecting with the fans. It will not be easy for him to overcome the hostile atmosphere towards him in the stands. He is on the receiving end of whistles every time his name is read over the PA system at the Santiago Bernabéu, and this is quite striking. The fact that he constantly takes taking refuge in statistics to justify himself and his team before the media, the lack of any self-criticism, together with the poor play of the team mean he is now always the target for criticism. There does not seem to be any easy solution to this problem as the image of him as a defensive coach has stuck, and for Benítez to get rid of it will imply a notable improvement in play and results. It will not be easy for him to turn the boos, jeers and whistles into applause unless the team start to play to the fans' liking and score lots of goals.

Freeing himself from the corset. Benítez stands accused of having lost his identity, of not being himself, and of giving in to the direct and indirect messages from above when it comes to choosing his line-ups. Those who know him well say that this is not the true Benítez, the one of old, and that he has been infected by the inehritance of long-standing, and unhealthy problems that hinder him from building a competitive team. The yolk of the 'BBC' trio and James Rodríguez condition the development of his own style and there are some who say he is bound hand and foot.

Getting closure. Benítez has any number of problems open at any one time. As fast as he solves on, another opens up. The Karim Benzema 'affair' with the French courts; the leaks about James Rodríguez supposedly being overweight; the possible departure of Cristiano Ronaldo; the barbs going back and forth between him and Sergio Ramos; the ongoing misunderstandings with the club doctors and the 'rests' he has given Marcelo, and the Twitter responses about them...

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