English Premiership

Misfiring forwards prove costly

2015-02-10 10:12
Radamel Falcao (AFP)

London - The spending power of Real Madrid and Manchester United is unmatched in football, and the temptation is to reinvest that wealth in eye-catching, crowd-pleasing attacking talent.

But weekend results provided a reminder to world football's biggest moneymakers that overloading squads with expensive forwards is not a guaranteed path to prosperity on the pitch.

United had to rely on defensive midfielder Daley Blind's stoppage-time goal just to salvage a 1-1 draw in the Premier League at West Ham on Sunday.

And Real is reeling from its heaviest loss in more than four years: a 4-0 humiliation inflicted by Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

The Madrid derby also exposed the shortcomings of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. The front three, who collectively cost Real more than $250 million, did not score or manage a single shot on target between them.

"We lacked everything — desire, attitude," Ronaldo acknowledged. "We weren't fresh physically or mentally."

The current Ballon d'Or holder did, however, muster the energy after the game to celebrate his 30th birthday in Madrid, singing karaoke in a video spread on social media.

Real supporters didn't have much to sing about on Saturday but they have been vocal in their booing recently. After three games without scoring, Bale is bearing the brunt of criticism from Madrid's notoriously hard-to-please media and facing some jeers from fans.

Just twice this season has Bale been Real's match-winner, grabbing late goals to secure 2-1 wins over Malaga in November and Cordoba last month. Having joined from Tottenham after seeming to single-handedly rescue the London club on a weekly basis, the 99 million-euro player is far from being indispensable in the Spanish capital.

Carlo Ancelotti, though, is sticking by the so-called BBC attacking unit.

"With those three forwards we have won the Club World Cup and the Champions League," the Madrid coach said. "Questioning them is nonsensical. As long as they're fit they'll always play."

There's a similar loyalty at Manchester United, whose manager Louis van Gaal persevered on Sunday at West Ham with Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Angel di Maria up front.

It was a drab contribution from the trio as United once again lacked the attacking flair and width fans became accustomed to under Alex Ferguson.

But while Real remains top in Spain despite its weekend setback, United is fourth in England. On one hand it is an improvement from last season under David Moyes, with the team at least back in the Champions League places again, but Tottenham and Arsenal are close behind and producing more spirited performances.

It isn't much to show for spending in excess of $250 million last year. Although United has lost just once in 17 games, the team is as unconvincing as the apparent philosophy Van Gaal says he's still trying to impose in his first season.

Part of that philosophy seems to be keeping Wayne Rooney in midfield, despite the team's struggles to score. Rooney, the longest-serving striker in the United team, doesn't have a goal — or shot on target — since the turn of the year.

Rooney once seemed to be racing toward Bobby Charlton's scoring record of 249, but he remains on 224 and is unlikely to break it this season — and maybe not even next campaign as long as Di Maria, Van Persie and Falcao are preferred in attack.

Falcao, though, might not be around much longer. The Colombia forward has just four goals in 17 appearances and the chances of United turning his loan from Monaco into a costly permanent deal seem to recede with each miss.

The Falcao loan deal last year reflected the eagerness of clubs to snap up big-name strikers when they come on the market, then leaving it to the managers to figure out how to accommodate them.

Time and again, though, this formula hasn't worked.

But club executives seem to have short memories.

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