Soccer | La Liga

Where have all the goals gone?

World-class scorers Ronaldo, Suárez, Griezmann and Benzema are all struggling to hit the back of the net in Spain’s top division

Antoine Griezmann of Atlético Madrid shoots against Barcelona.
Antoine Griezmann of Atlético Madrid shoots against Barcelona.GABRIEL BOUYS / Getty

Four of the world’s top goal scorers are having a season to forget. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema of Real Madrid have scored one goal each. Antoine Griezmann of Atlético Madrid has two to his name, and Barcelona’s Luis Suárez has hit the back of the net just three times.

The best offensive pairing in the league at the moment is that formed by Simon Zaza and Rodrigo at Valencia

That’s a combined total of seven goals – or five fewer than FC Barcelona’s Leo Messi – over 11 match days. So what is going on?

“Players who have the instinct and the taste [for goals] never lose them,” says Dani Ruiz Bazán, who scored 147 goals for Athletic Bilbao in the 1970s and 1980s. “Goals are an innate thing and although you can’t train a player to have [the instinct], it stays with him for his whole life,” the former player explains.

The best offensive pairing in the league at the moment is that formed by Simon Zaza and Rodrigo at Valencia. They have scored 16 goals between them, or one more than Messi and Suárez (12 and 3 goals, respectively) and 14 more than Benzema and Ronaldo. Their tally is also 10 more than that of Griezmann and Ángel Correa at Atlético. In third place this year are Cédric Bakambu and Carlos Bacca, with a combined 11 goals.

“Going a long time without scoring or without having clear chances can leave you mixed up,” says Ismael Urzaiz, who hit the back of the net 131 times in 17 seasons with clubs including Albacete, Celta, Rayo Vallecano, Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao. “The trick is to forget about just scoring. If you don’t have clear chances that can make you stop doing the work that leads to scoring; you can end up just trying to make chances for yourself and not for everyone else,” he explains.

“Forwards live for goals and you can’t do without them, but if you don’t do the whole job you won’t get anywhere,” he adds.

Mario Kempes, known as “the Matador,” agrees. “By working and staying calm, these bad spells end. They can last a long time but not forever,” says the player, who scored 126 goals at Valencia and at Alicante’s Hércules FC. “The support of the coach and your teammates is critical in those moments. They know you, and understand the stress you are suffering from.”

All three former players recognize that the general team dynamic can both expose and hide individual weaknesses. “In the case of Griezmann, I think the assistance he is giving to other parts of the team is making him play further away from goal than the others, and this use of energy means you don’t have enough strength left when you go forward,” says Urzaiz.

The pride of the number 9

“The play of Barcelona is also not helping Luisito Suárez,” says Kempes. “The departure of Neymar has been important because he played a very special supporting role. It’s also not normal for him to be missing so many clear chances on goal,” he adds, noting that the stress of not scoring is affecting Cristiano more than his rivals.

“When you can’t hit the net from inside the area, you start trying to score from all over the place, whether you are in a good position or not, because you live for goals and you get angry when you waste an opportunity,” Kempes adds.

“If you do things right, the goal will come. If you get obsessed and only want that one thing, it will turn into a sword of Damocles that will eat you up,” says Urzaiz.

“The high self-esteem of number 9s is undeniable but sometimes you have to accept your bad luck calmly because the goals will return,” adds Kempes.

English version by George Mills.

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