Real Madrid

Real Madrid are starting to show signs of life after Sergio Ramos

Grey Whitebloom
With contract negotiations stalling, Real Madrid may be best served letting Sergio Ramos go
With contract negotiations stalling, Real Madrid may be best served letting Sergio Ramos go / Soccrates Images/Getty Images
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As Real Madrid stumbled to defeat against Manchester City in last season's Champions League, a sharp blast of a whistle from the stands pierced through the fake crowd noise.

Decked out in his best impression of Conor McGregor, Sergio Ramos wasn't going to let a mere suspension stop him from marshalling Real Madrid's back line. Yet, despite Ramos' best attempts, Madrid crashed out of the last 16 for the second year on the spin, and the second year with their captain watching from the stands.

Sergio Ramos (right) tried to orchestrate Real Madrid from the stands in defeat to Manchester City last season
Sergio Ramos (right) tried to orchestrate Real Madrid from the stands in defeat to Manchester City last season / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the opening game of this season's group stage - with Ramos and his whistling once more bound to the sidelines - only compounded the supposed dependency between Real and a player out of contract come June 2021.

However, Madrid started the new year by beating La Liga's in-form side, without their talismanic captain or his sonic assault from the stands. By carving out a 2-0 win against Celta Vigo on Saturday, Los Blancos earned their sixth victory in seven league matches, hauling themselves up into second place behind city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Ramos - it should be said - has only missed two of these outings. Yet, that his absence was hardly felt in either fixture is a huge improvement upon the state of affairs as recently as the start of this season. The ever-versatile Nacho Fernandez stepped in for his captain against both Sevilla and Celta.

After a first-half performance imbued with the front-footed aggression so regularly deployed by Ramos, Nacho adeptly walked the disciplinary tightrope against Celta following a yellow card early in the second half. Zinedine Zidane has stressed that he is 'not surprised by how well he played', but Madrid's uptick in form in recent weeks also owes plenty to those in front of the defence.

Toni Kroos hasn't missed a game for Real Madrid since the start of October
Toni Kroos hasn't missed a game for Real Madrid since the start of October / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Madrid wrapped up last season's league title with an uncharacteristically gritty resolve, but suffered a bumpy start to the current campaign when they failed to replicate this approach. While their attack remained among the best in the division, Madrid were conceding a slew of high-quality chances largely because of the gaping holes in their midfield.

With Toni Kroos often dropping back to collect the ball from the centre-backs, Madrid's other players would flock forward, leaving great swathes of green grass for Casemiro to marshal on his own, with or without Ramos in the team. In the opening ten league games of the season, Madrid conceded at almost double the rate they recorded in 2019/20 and lost as many matches as they did in the entirety of that title winning campaign.

Zidane has since tweaked his approach. Luka Modric has enjoyed an imperious run of form, reducing some of that space by staying closer to Casemiro while also finding the net twice. Madrid have conceded just three times in their past seven La Liga fixtures - keeping a clean sheet in both matches Ramos missed.

However, unlike Modric, Ramos' contract negotiations have become emphatically stagnant.

Despite his seniority, Ramos' output has proven resistant to severe decline. Yet, Madrid would be handing him the new two-year deal he is demanding on the assumption that he continues to play at such a standard by the time he turns 37.

Zidane may have backed Ramos to stay in the Spanish capital but unless he relents on his demands, Madrid's precarious economic standing - due to a stadium renovation amid a global pandemic - doesn't allow much wiggle room.

Zidane with Ramos last season
Zidane with Ramos last season / Denis Doyle/Getty Images

If Ramos were to bring his decade-and-a-half spell at the Bernabeu to a close, Madrid would certainly have to find a replacement, regardless of Nacho's impressive form of late. Bayern Munich's David Alaba - available on a free transfer this summer - is widely touted as the likeliest candidate. After enjoying a career-best campaign last season, the versatile Austria international - six years Ramos' junior - tallies up to a no-brainer.

Ramos may very well have more years left among the elite within his legs, but Madrid have shown the capacity to defend well in his absence and - cue the tiniest of violins - simply can't afford him.

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